The Measure of Sarai’s Worth

Sarai is enrolled in an academic partnership between Harrisonburg High School and Blue Ridge Community College where she has an opportunity to earn her high school diploma and a college Associate of Arts degree.  Sarai says she could sum up her college statement with five words: “I am worth your time.” We think she’s worth more.

Sarai is definitely a talented student. Her high PSAT score places her among the top 3% of Hispanic high school juniors in the nation. She is fluent in two languages, and is an exceptional writer. She is active in nearly a dozen campus groups and activities, and will easily exceed 300 leadership and service hours in SLI before she graduates next year.

But are these achievements a measure of her worth?

Many students and parents find it unsettling that college admission decisions are not an exact science. In fact, the order of criteria for selecting and admitting students across universities can be as diverse as the students seeking to attend those schools. The fairness of these orders have been addressed in courts and public arguments for well over 70 years. For decades, advocacy groups for Latinos have pressed for greater transparency in the selection practices of public institutions that appear to have a history of bias against admitting minority students, while a few individuals have challenged selection formulas that they believe unfairly elevated the status of minority applicants.

The College Board reports that grades earned in college preparatory courses are more important than overall GPA. Strong SAT/ACT scores, sustained activity and leadership in extra-curricular activities, positive recommendations from faculty and counselors, and a well-articulated personal statement are also important. Taken together, the information is useful data for evaluating the promise of a student applicant to succeed in the college classroom and contribute to a college campus.

“Contribution” is a repeating theme in court rulings that have upheld admission practices where an applicant is reviewed as having talents missing from a campus, and thus able to contribute to a campus body and environment that is lacking the diversity of skills and experiences that characterize the “real world.” Unfortunately, this line of thinking also seems to reduce the diversity of persons to a commodity; something that can be claimed, evaluated, and exchanged according to market standards.

From our perspective, there is no way to measure Sarai’s character, her love for family and community, or her motivation to bring others up with her. There’s no measure of her humor or her determination. And while these attributes may contribute to the quality of our relationship with Sarai and each other, they do not tell the whole story of our love.

In short, there’s no measure for how we value the person that Sarai is because there’s no measure of our love for her.

[Many thanks to the two students of JMU School of Media Arts and Design who wrote and produced this short documentary, but who neglected to include their names in the credits. This piece was screened at the 2015 DocFest, in Harrisonburg’s Court Square Theater.]

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