I remember being so poor when I went to Harvard, for Christmas break I took a Greyhound bus back to California.
Big mistake. I wasn’t thinking straight.
On the way, at a bus station in Philadelphia, an immigration officer went through the bus, and had the audacity to ask me for my papers.
My papers? All I had was the Boston Globe sports page.
They didn’t arrest me because I also had The New York Times and a Harvard ID.
One of the few times going to Harvard actually helped me in life.
A Harvard ID didn’t help Eldo Kim, 20, who is likely not having much fun staying with close family in Massachusetts after his arrest last week for allegedly making a fake bomb threat at Harvard.
Kim, who immigrated here from South Korea and became a citizen in 5th grade, is free on a $100,000 unsecured bond.
He isn’t exactly the Unabomber. In fact, there was no bomb. Just the threat.
Kim might have thought the software Tor that allows for anonymous browsing would protect his identity. But signing on to the Harvard Wi-Fi system with his Harvard ID unmasked him and led to his arrest.
On the one hand, Harvard administrators are probably relieved the whole thing was a hoax. Kim wasn’t a malevolent terrorist, but a lowly, panicked sophomore about to take a final exam. He wasn’t an Al-Qaeda trainee.
On the other hand, it’s sad that the academic and financial pressure in college these days is at such a high level that a student is unable to tell the simple truth that he is unprepared to take an exam.
Some version of “The dog ate my homework,” doesn’t cut it anymore. (Though it probably never did). Nor does “I have a tummy ache” really work.
In this ‘go big, or go home’ world, all that’s too petty.
But phony bomb threat?
Now that’s some serious stuff. But for one more day of studying? Ridiculous.
Still, when you’re under pressure and desperately unprepared to face an exam, you will think strange thoughts.
You will do everything but really cram (which is what the two weeks or so of “reading period” is about), but might help you get a passing grade in the 11th hour.
Of course, a bomb threat gets you five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. And no degree. (Though you will probably learn to be better at actual “bomb-threat making” in prison).
But even with Harvard at roughly $240,000 for the four years, and you don’t even get to choose your dorm, prison is no bargain.
Kim did have options. Like asking for an extension, and when that failed, he could simply not show up for the test.
When you don’t show up for a doctor’s appointment or medical exam, they save on the latex gloves, and simply re-schedule.
Harvard gives you an ABS. Short for “absent.”
It just means you had better things to do that day.
It’s not an F. It’s not a “fail.” It’s sort of like pleading academic “Nolo Contendere.”
You aren’t ready to be tested, but you have a story, if anyone will hear you.
Hopefully, somebody will. Kim’s story was told by his defense attorney in federal court.
As AP reported, federal public defender Ian Gold said Kim was dealing with finals and the third anniversary of his father’s death, which is this month.
“It’s finals time at Harvard,” Gold said. “In one way, we’re looking at the post-9/11 equivalent of pulling a fire alarm. Certainly I’m not saying the government response was unjustified, but it’s important to keep in mind we’re dealing with a 20-year-old man who was under a great deal of pressure.”
In another report, Gold says of Kim: “He’s a very remorseful, shattered young man.”
I hope Kim gets help. You know he’s not alone.
He’s not a sophisticated criminal mind, but a panicked, unsophisticated sophomore. Kim needs to do some thinking during holiday break. But so do some college administrators.
In no way am I excusing Kim for his actions, whose criminality took shape when he was unwilling to accept responsibility for his failings.
But when faced with reality, he made a poor choice under pressure ― and is alleged to have committed a felony.
Part of higher education’s responsibility should be to help students like Kim make the right choice.
Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog) Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media ; twitter@emilamok