THE VALEDICTORIAN of Spingarn High School's graduating class last June was a young woman named Lucy Baker. She wanted to go to Georgetown University, but she wasn't admitted because, the university explained to her, Spingarn had never got around to mailing the transcript of her school record. It wasn't a simple oversight. The university wrote twice to ask for it. Miss Baker went to her counselor, Josephine Wade, but nothing happened. The admissions deadline came and went. And that, it seemed was that.
How did it happen? The counselor, Mrs. Wade, explained to a reporter that she was sorry about it, but she had been very busy that year. And she had no clerical help. And so forth. Failing to send the transcript was, she said, "just one of those things." As excuses go, that one puts Spingarn in the category with the surgeon who says, "Well, nobody's perfect," when his scissors turn up in the patient's abdomen. Or the engineer who offers, "You can't win them all," when his condominium collapses. There are certain mistakes that are not tolerable.
In all of this paper-ridden society, there is no piece of paper that carries a greater freight of hope and aspiration than a young student's application to college. If you were looking for an especially moving example of this general truth, you might well choose the application that comes from an inner-city school like Spingarn to a selective and demanding university like Georgetown.
The most dismaying thing about this incident is the suggestion that the handling of college applications lies far from the normal procedures and preoccupations of Spingarn High School. The requirement of the transcript seems to have been treated as an extraordinary demand - a personal request for a special favor. The implication is that the future careers of the students, and the possibility of their going to college, are regarded at Spingarn as matters distant from the school's usual responsibilities and concerns. Doesn't the school care what happens to the youngsters who want to go to college? Mrs. Wade cared enough that, when she heard of the rejection, she herself rushed the missing transcript to Georgetown's admissions office. But the university said, sorry, it's too late.
Several months later the city's school superintendent, Vincent Reed, heard about it and interceded with the university. Georgetown bent a number of rules and, last week, admitted Miss Baker to this fall's freshman class. It's a happy ending. But there's been a certain cost. Miss Baker has missed the six-week summer course that Georgetown runs for entering freshmen with weak academic preparation. She would have liked to have taken that course.
Miss Baker's experience will doubtless leave a large uneasy question in the minds of some of the coming year's seniors at Spingarn and their families. What does the school's administration propose to do to guarantee that no admissions forms, and no requests for transcripts and references, get lost in this year's shuffle? Presumably Superintendent Reed will want to assure himself, and the school board, that neither Spingarn nor any other city school is left with the impression that this kind of lapse is permissible. Just one of those things? They may be mere pieces of paper, but the affect the direction of people's careers, and people's lives.