Midd alum reports from the alleged college-admissions crime scene

MIDDLEBURY — In the wake of news reports of a college admissions cheating scandal, recent Middlebury College graduate Juliette Luini has been thinking a lot about where she came from.
Luini, who now lives in Burlington after graduating from Middlebury last month, attended Marymount High School in Los Angeles. That school’s notable alumni include the Kardashian sisters and Olivia Jade Gianulli, whose parents, fashion designer Mossimo Gianulli and “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin, were indicted last week for paying a consultant $500,000 to secure for their daughters fraudulent athletic scholarships to the University of Southern California.
“It has definitely made me question the way my peers have gotten into college,” Luini said.
And yet she’s not surprised.
“I grew up in this world,” she said. “It’s about status. People just want their children to be in the right sororities at the right schools. They want to put a USC bumper sticker on their car, wear the sweatshirt and brag at dinner parties.”
As shocking as this news may have been to some people, Luini pointed out that the larger problem isn’t the way parents might have broken the law, but all of the legal ways they’re getting their children into colleges.
“You get in because you have the money for tutors and essay coaching,” Luini said. “And the essay coaches change the writing. Those essays are not in the voices of the people who wrote them.”
One of Luini’s classmates at Marymount took the ACT (a competitor of the SAT standardized test) nine times to get a better score, she said.
“Not everyone has the money to do that.”
Luini, whose family did not hire outside coaching, went to Middlebury because she was serious about academics and learning, she said.
“I chose Middlebury because the first time I visited Vermont I knew I wanted Vermont to shape me into a different person. Middlebury had values that I was lacking in Los Angeles.”
Ironically, when she looks back on her time at Middlebury, she wonders if it might not have been better to attend a state school in California. But then if she hadn’t gone to Middlebury in the first place, perhaps it would never have occurred to her to wonder that.
“Middlebury does a good job of educating people about privilege,” she said.
In retrospect, Luini doubts she would have been accepted to Middlebury if she hadn’t come from a private school.
“It makes me feel guilty,” she said. “It’s hard to grapple with that.”
It’s also made her question the whole idea of private education.
“If I have kids, I think it’s going to be difficult to decide whether or not to send them to private schools,” she said.
Luini’s younger sister, a current student at Marymount, is applying to colleges now.
“I’m looking at the (application) essay questions and thinking, ‘No one knows who they are at 18,’” Luini said. “Colleges are asking you to define who you are in 250 characters or whatever. They want to know what you’re going to major in, but the answer should be ‘I have no idea! I’m still trying to figure that out. That’s why I want to go to your school.’”
When asked what advice she’d offer to Addison County high school students who are applying to college, Luini said that above all they should be true to themselves.
“Allow the application process to be the first in a series of steps of self-discovery,” she said. “Don’t answer the questions in the way that the colleges want you to answer them. The college can accept you or not, but you also hold some power. You can also accept a college or not.”
From her perspective, application questions about overcoming adversity pose the greatest ethical challenges for her own peer group.
“Some people just haven’t had to (overcome much adversity). But in order to do well on these questions we feel like we have to figure out something to put. And are people completely honest about this?”
People should just be honest about their privilege, she said.
“If that’s the hardest part of your college application, you’re doing pretty well.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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