Kyle Kashuv might deserve to be forgiven. It's possible he doesn't deserve to be forever stigmatized for the stupid, racist comments he made two years ago. He definitely deserves a chance to show he's learned from his mistakes.
But he is not entitled to demonstrate or earn that redemption at Harvard University. And he won't get that opportunity.
Kashuv — a conservative activist who survived the shooting massacre last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida — revealed to the world on Monday that his admission to Harvard had been rescinded. The rejection came after texts and documents emerged showing he had used racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic language as a 16-year-old. Kashuv apologized, but to no avail: He'll now have to go elsewhere for a college education.
That, Kashuv has decided, is unfair.
"Harvard deciding that someone can't grow, especially after a life-altering event like the shooting, is deeply concerning," he wrote on Twitter. "If any institution should understand growth, it's Harvard, which is looked to as the pinnacle of higher education despite its checkered past."
Naturally, the matter became an instant internet brouhaha, with conservatives lamenting that Harvard didn't offer Kashuv absolution for his youthful offenses, and critics defending the university's right to make that judgment.
The dustup is beside the point: Kashuv won't get to matriculate at Harvard University. But if he's paying attention — and if he is sincere about regretting his bad behavior instead of just using Harvard as a jumping-off point for a career in conservative martrydom — the university has already offered him a bit of an education. Indeed, there are some important lessons he can learn from this incident.
The first, of course, is that you don't always get do-overs. If you're a person of color in this country, you probably already know that even minor indiscretions committed during your teen years can have lasting consequences. And for all humans, there are some wrongs we just can't make right — no matter how much we sincerely want to. It doesn't feel good to have that mark on your personal or public record; all you can do is try to be the best version of yourself going forward.
Which leads to the second lesson: When your sins have become public, you can offer contrition or express entitlement — but you can't do both effectively at the same time. I won't question the sincerity of Kashuv's repentance over his indiscretions. But it's fair to say that his decision to publish a lengthy Twitter thread expressing dismay and grievance over the Harvard rejection makes that initial repentance seem more strategic than genuine. One way you begin to earn public redemption for your mistakes is to accept the ramifications; many of the conservatives lamenting the lack of forgiveness shown Kashuv would, in other circumstances, understand that serving penance is often a requirement for obtaining pardon. If losing admission to America's most elite private university is the worst that Kashuv faces as a result of his mistakes, he will be a fortunate young man indeed.
If Kashuv is sincere about his apologies, he might want to learn a third lesson: This moment is painful, but it also isn't the end of the world. Life will go on. There are many other good colleges and universities in the United States; someone will give him a chance to earn a degree. And he can make good on his promise to work with institutions that foster inclusion and work against racism. Kashuv cannot control all the consequences he will face for this incident, but he can choose to act gracefully and productively despite the setback.
"I believe that institutions and people can grow," Kashuv wrote on Twitter. It is now up to him to prove he really is capable of that growth. What's better than a Harvard degree? Being a good person.