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In July 2012, a few months before he was to officially take over as president of the College Board, David Coleman invited Les Perelman, then a director of writing at M.I.T., to come meet with him in Lower Manhattan. Of the many things the College Board does — take part in research, develop education policy, create curriculums — it is perhaps most recognized as the organization that administers the SAT, and Perelman was one of the exam’s harshest and most relentless critics.

For as long as she could remember, Vanessa Brewer had her mind set on going to college. The image of herself as a college student appealed to her — independent, intelligent, a young woman full of potential — but it was more than that; it was a chance to rewrite the ending to a family story that went off track 18 years earlier, when Vanessa’s mother, then a high-achieving high-school senior in a small town in Arkansas, became pregnant with Vanessa.

We were driven. Our vocabularies were formidable and constantly expanding. We knew the chemical elements by number and properties, the names and dates of battles in the world’s greatest wars.

In the spring of 2008, I did a daylong stint on the Yale admissions committee. We—that is, three admissions staff, a member of the college dean’s office, and me, the faculty representative—were going through submissions from eastern Pennsylvania. The junior officer in charge, a young man who looked to be about 30, presented each case, rat-a-tat-tat, in a blizzard of admissions jargon that I had to pick up on the fly.

School had always been his safe harbor. Growing up in one of South Los Angeles' bleakest, most violent neighborhoods, he learned about the world by watching "Jeopardy" and willed himself to become a straight-A student.

Every time a student died, we had a moment of silence during homeroom. The principal came over the loudspeaker, and for once I did not have to tell the students to be quiet. 

Hitchhikers were rare on Chicago's exclusive North Shore, where kids owned Camaros and carried plenty of taxi cash. Even rarer were high school teachers who picked them up. 

The evidence and testimony in Federal District Court in Brooklyn had quickly mounted against her, but Cecilia Chang was convinced that once she took the stand at her corruption trial, things would change. “She was extremely happy,” Eve Lin, her longtime hairdresser, recalled recently. “She said: ‘Tomorrow, I have a court case, and if they say I’ve done nothing wrong, then that’s it. It’s over.

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