Kyle Kashuv was a student at Florida’s Parkland High School when the horrific school shooting took the lives of 17 students and faculty in February 2018. Unlike his peers Emma González and David Hogg, who stepped out as activists for gun control, Kashuv approached school safety activism from a pro-Second Amendment perspective. This garnered him praise from the right, vitriol from the left, and meetings with high level American conservatives, including President Trump. He had his college sights set on Harvard, was admitted for the class of 2023, and planned a gap year to further his pro-2A in work within the context of school safety. Unfortunately, his past caught up with him, and his admission was rescinded.

At issue were some messages he exchanged with friends when he was 16, that were uncovered and circulated via media. By his own admission, these messages included incendiary, offensive language. For Kashuv, who received death threats in the wake of his activism regarding gun rights and Parkland, this exposé of his childish messages sent him “into one of the darkest spirals of his life.”

The messages he exchanged with friends contained language that is definitely offensive. Racist and anti-Semitic language peppers the correspondence, and after the first missive was released and reported on in May, other past friends came forward to share their screen shots as well.

Kashuv, now 18, knows that what he said was hurtful, offensive, and inappropriate. He issued an apology as soon as he was made aware of the existence of the screenshots, for messages he didn’t remember sending.

When Harvard admissions got wind of this situation, an admissions officer reached out to him for some clarification, and to get his side of the story. Kashuv penned a response to the school.

He additionally reached out to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to let them know what his intentions were to remedy the situation.

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion was willing to accept the apology, and give the kid another chance.

Harvard admissions was not.

For those of us who didn’t grow up with phones attached to our hands, there is little if any record of the crazy ass bullshit we said to each other. Whether face to face, over the phone, behind each others’ backs, or via passed notes, only our hazy memories contain any recollection of what incendiary thoughts we dared utter to one another in hopes of being as shocking as possible. My predilection for writing things down has always gotten me in trouble, and those notes I passed, whether in attempt to be comically bitchy, or earnestly forthright, occasionally landed in the wrong hands. Those instances when feelings were hurt because of my words landed rocks in the pit of my stomach, and made me rethink the behaviour that made it happen. I don’t think I ever apologized for what I’d said, and if I did, I’m sure it was super clumsy and not nearly as sincere as Kashuv’s public mea culpa. My college admission remained intact, despite the mean things I’d said.

This privilege of a private past is not available for kids today, who write everything down, where it is stored in cloud, whether they want it to stay there or not. There are enough data hoarders that no one should think anything they say digitally will stay private forever. What this means for personal communication, and for teens, who by their very nature attempt to incense, offend, and provoke, is that they need to be increasingly careful to not unleash their private thoughts to screen. The ability to think before speaking is not typically developed by the age of 16, no matter how much parents and educators try to instill that skill.

Much like the kid who accidentally pees his pants in kindergarten and still can’t live it down by 8th grade, Kashuv let loose some linguistic diarrhea, and though he’s potty trained by now, it doesn’t matter. Harvard won’t have him.  

That a university as illustrious as Harvard is unwilling to forgive these kinds of missteps, though the school itself has its own checkered past to contend with, speaks volumes about the state of American discourse. Kashuv should have known better than to write down these insults and send them to friends, but Harvard should know that kids are often idiots, and it’s only because Kashuv became a public figure that anyone even thought about going to find these messages. If Kashuv’s trove of childhood correspondence is going to be laid bare and exposed, filed as part of his admissions packet, shouldn’t the same be done for all the kids of the class of 2023? Or is it only Kashuv who gets to have his messages rifled through?

Standards for admission at North America’s top universities are rigorous. Essays, test scores, interviews, grades, and extra-curriculars are only a few of those puzzle pieces that go into constructing a picture of the perfect candidate. If messages to friends are to be part of the package, they should be part of everyone’s package, and that requirement should be stated clearly on the admissions brochure. Perhaps Harvard will consider adding an upload requirement of all digital correspondence for prospective students, so that the same standards will be applied to both public, pro-gun, school safety activists, and those kids who don’t garner national attention for standing up for their beliefs.