Of Adam B. Wheeler and how this youthful con man extraordinaire made the world's greatest university -- and others -- see red.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
This is the story of the world's greatest university, rich, secure, inviolate, invulnerable... arrogant... ripe for the taking.
This is the story of a talented young man, not merely good at lying, deception, prevarication and hoodwinkery... but (though connoisseurs of such matters may cavil) great.
This is the story of a young man so keen to have the good things in life that he was willing to sell his soul to get them... and of parents who so loved their son that they were willing to put him in prison to redeem him.
This is the story of the highest university officials who thought this unthinkable thing could never happen... and who drank deep from the chalice of chagrin and public humiliation when it did.
This is the story of peers who, when forced to confront this tale found that the perpetrator was cute and desirable... and therefore deserving of understanding, absolution, and a date.
This is the tale of Adam B. Wheeler. And I suspect you will find it as riveting as I did for, verily, it is a true tale of our times and, therefore, irresistible and completely appalling. Ole!
Adam B. Wheeler, a boy in a hurry
Adam B. Wheeler, by all accounts, was an average student, neither good nor bad, outstanding in no way, prosaic in all. However, such a boy could dream... and Adam B. Wheeler did so dream... of a place called Cambridge and a college called Harvard, where sport the irresistible jeunesse doree.
Adam dreamt... then despaired... for Harvard looked for the exceptional and Adam was merely average and hence beneath Harvard's notice.
So this average boy took the first extraordinary decision of his life: he decided to risk all to escape from the usual, the hackneyed, the average, the dull, the prosaic. He decided, in short, to invent the vehicle that would give him escape; he decided to craft himself.
Years later, at Adam's fraud trial, his lawyer Steven Sussman, Esq. said "There is no answer to why Adam did this. " But Mr. Sussman, like so many adults involved in this case, was wrong. Sussman has forgotten what it is like to walk high school corridors and be nothing more than one of a mass, faceless, dull, average, forgettable. Adam knew that feeling... and, with growing insistence, was ready to do everything, anything to rise and get out of this situation... to take his place, however wrongly, amongst the best and brightest of his generation. The quickest way to do that, he concluded, was by mastering the potent and practical arts of the fraudulent presentation, prevarication, deception.
And so, Adam B. Wheeler commenced, by diligent study, an ascension of trickery where each step successfully encountered fueled the next. He submitted a plagiarized school essay and winning the prize discovered the ease of deceit, thereby engendering more and greater boldness.
Audacity, he discovered, could be created by successful deceptions, which also delivered a plethora of benefits -- money, social recognition, the compliments of teachers and peers, the thrilling feeling that he was "somebody"... and, all important, further insights into how to rise higher still on his new skills and expanding confidence. Adam B. Wheeler was moving... so fast that goals once unimaginable were now within his grasp.
And so he grabbed.
Proud Bowdoin College with its picture-perfect campus gave Adam a place by deceit. But Adam wanted, had always wanted more. For such damnation as he was willing to risk, he demanded the very best.
So, then, fair Harvard's turn. Adam, now almost through his apprenticeship of deft manipulation, doctored his College Board scores and forged letters of recommendation. These were panegyrics of such transcendence that in a more perfect world they would have moved Harvard to contact him rather than he condescending to contact them.
And so Harvard, confident its summit could not be so breached, became Adam's trophy, too... and, with its welcome acceptance, gave him, he well knew, life's ticket to privilege, deference, and open doors everywhere. It was thrilling, heady... dangerous because the very ease and extent of success caused hubris, the most dangerous thing of all.
Adam B. Wheeler became an Icarus with no Daedalus to counsel and advise. But even Icarus, with such a wise and seasoned advisor at hand, was so fueled by arrogance and the certainty that only the young possess, even well-advised Icarus flew too high, too soon, too close to the sun... and so, his wings melting, plunged into death.
What chance, then, had still-learning Adam B. Wheeler to know, so soon in life, the virtue of restraint? Icarus-like, he chose to fly too fast, too high, eschewing restraint because constant victories were so exciting and gratifying...and, he had proved, so easy.
However his fall, inevitable though he never knew it, was, in the classical tradition, sharp, painful, ironic. Continuing to want the best, he fabricated a fake straight A Harvard transcript and aimed to grab a Fulbright or even a Rhodes scholarship, much desired, achieved by only the elite, amongst whom he insisted to be.
However, grinning fate was at hand with Adam's nemesis.
It was his parents, the good, decent, profoundly appalled creators of Adam B. Wheeler, his mom and dad. To save him, they laid him low, beginning his unravelling with a call to the chagrined Harvard officials whose certainty and carelessness had moved Adam so appreciably forward. They, powered by revenge and sanctimonious moralizing, happily pounced, determined to end his career and make sure This Could Never Happen Again. His Harvard status was rescinded... his trial ensued. His conviction inevitable, he plea-bargained, admitting culpability and accepting restitution for all funds and prizes falsely won. Prison was avoided but shame was not. It was the end of Adam B. Wheeler.
Or was it?
In the blog of the Crimson, Harvard's student newspaper, another stream was unexpectedly running. Here the story took another turn, for many bloggers (not just women either) saw what "Daniel" saw: "He really is totally adorable. He probably gets away with half of his shenanigans because people look into those big blue eyes and see the floppy hair and think he's adorable". Ah, too fetching to be guilty, much less locked away.
It was, under these circumstances, no doubt wise of the judge in his sentencing order of December 16, 2010 to prevent Adam from enjoying any financial gains from his story from books, stage, and screen. It's sad, though, for local boy-made-good Matt Damon, who would have done full justice to this tale of Cambridge, a place he knows so well. However, no doubt in due time, Adam B. Wheeler will find a way around this (temporary) obstacle. I hope so, for I long to see this film.
I have selected for the music to this chapter, Scott Joplin's pep machine, "Maple Leaf Rag" (1899). Pull your hat over your head, go get your best gal, come on down to the court house, where they're playing the "Maple Leaf Rag" and waiting for Adam B. Wheeler to come in from the hoosegow, and flash them baby blues at you. Oh lordy!