Shawn Maher

Trending from G/L: Important Lessons on Higher Education We Learned from a Spelling Bee

The Scripp’s Spelling Bee is a long-running annual tournament that pits the nation’s best elementary school spellers against each other in a tension-filled contest to crown the champion speller. Or at least that was what it was designed to do. In this year’s tournament, somehow eight students all tied for first place… and that’s not even the worst part.

One participant managed to circumvent the system and buy his way in without actually earning a spot. For the second year in a row. The student’s parents blamed Scripps Spelling Bee for a lack of oversight while spelling bee officials blamed the parents and school for a lack of supervision.

His parents said they knew their son hadn’t won the school bee. They claimed, however, that he sent the application on his own, and they merely paid fees and made travel arrangements with no suspicion of any wrongdoing whatsoever. When contacted by the Palm Beach Post, his father told the reporter,  “We are busy. We have three kids. We have a job. Unless we have a letter from the school, unless I have to take him somewhere or pick him up, we are not that involved.”

What is lost in the blame game, however, is a lack of understanding about why we strive for academic achievement in the first place. Between this snafu and the recent headline-grabbing, celebrity-laden college admission scandal, whatever happened to the idea of education as a tool for lifelong success?

The value of academic achievement, all the way from elementary school through higher education institutions, is found in obtaining knowledge and mastering skills. Not just framing a certificate or diploma to hang on the wall, but also utilizing your achievements to become successful in all of your future endeavors.

The more difficult the journey, the more rewarding it will be when you finally reach the summit. A diploma may get you in the door, but the invaluable skills that you have gained on the way to obtaining that diploma are what set you up to achieve your life goals. And that is the lesson that seems to have been lost in these recent incidents.

At the heart of these sentiments is what helps foster true success for institutes of higher learning. It is not an appeal to those searching for a shortcut or a transactional relationship. Instead, higher learning is an appeal to a lifelong hunger for knowledge, a quest for self-improvement and an aspiration to become something better, leaving the world a better place than it was before you entered it. It can be tempting, especially in such a fast-moving society, to seek out the path of least resistance. However, if there is anything we have learned recently, it is that the ability that results from a good education is a far more important predictor of long-term success. It may take more time and hard work, but the reward is definitely worth it.