Lori Loughlin and Peter Zhu

Lori Loughlin, Mossimo Giannulli, Felicity Huffman, Bill McGlashan, Jane Buckingham and all the other rich and famous parents who cheated and bribed their children’s way into elite universities using the services of Rick Singer should understand the story of a young man named Peter Zhu.

Cadet Lieutenant Peter Zhu was a classmate of my son in the West Point Class of 2019.  Peter would have been graduating from the United State Military Academy in a little over two months’ time, had he lived. You see, Peter tragically lost his life in a skiing accident on February 28 at the Victor Constant Ski Area on the Academy grounds, as the result of spinal cord injuries.

Peter’s life story reads like that of a young man that any American parent could only dream of raising.  Peter was a stand-out cadet. He was in the top two percent of his class and was president of the Cadet Medical Society. He was scheduled to attend medical school at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences following graduation and commissioning in May.

In a moving tribute to Peter written by his roommate, Cadet Michael Martinez, that I would encourage everyone to read, Michael describes Peter as “the most hard working, most charismatic, and most humble person I know.” The impact that Peter had on Michael, let alone all the other people that were fortunate enough to have encountered him in his abruptly shortened life, is beautifully articulated in Michael’s homage.  Michael discusses how Peter not only helped him in the difficult academic and physical trials that all cadets endure, but how Peter brought him closer to God.

You don’t reach the level of achievement that Peter realized at West Point unless you possess extraordinary qualities. But beyond the academic, athletic and military skills he possessed, Peter’s character was such that Michael was moved to write the following:

He was the type of person that I wish you could have met and have a conversation with, someone who truly valued friendships and relationships, someone who put the needs of others before his own. Pete was in every aspect the model friend, student, leader, and scholar, a person of the highest moral integrity and personal character. Pete was an exemplary role model who, without a doubt, led by example in every aspect of his life.

While the deaths of young people in the prime of their lives is tragic, there is something particularly poignant about the loss of a young person who has dedicated his or her life to the service of something so abstract and noble as the defense of their country and countrymen.

Two and a half years ago, I wrote of the loss of another great American. Thomas Surdyke, another West Point cadet and classmate of my son, lost his life while on vacation on Long Island in the summer between his freshman and sophomore years. He sacrificed his life while saving the life of a fellow beach-goer in the waters off Long Island. With complete disregard for his own safety, Cadet Surdyke dove into the water to rescue a civilian swimmer who had been caught in an undertow. He saved the civilian, but in the process, through his exertions, Tom Surdyke drowned. He is fittingly buried in West Point’s cemetery among his fellow West Pointers. He was posthumously awarded the Soldier’s Medal for his sacrifice.

The Class of 2019 has now lost three cadets in accidents. In addition to Pete and Tom, Cadet Brandon Jackson died in a car accident in September 2016.  I don’t know what mortality tables dictate but losing three young people in separate accidents in a class of approximately 1,100 seems unusually high.

Three cadets will be missing their graduation this year (photo credit)

The parents involved in the Great College Admissions Cheating Scandal could take a lesson from the members of our service academies and our military generally about selflessness, personal sacrifice, character-building and integrity.

My wife and I were tremendously blessed to have three kids who did it the old-fashioned way - by earning it. Our oldest daughter, who was managing editor of her high school paper, president of Teenage Republicans, swim team member, and with a high grade point average and SAT scores (all legitimate), went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame, which subsequently granted her a fellowship to get a master’s degree in education there as well. She’s now teaching high school physics, world geography and is the head swim coach.

Our son at West Point was recruited for its swim team -- legitimately recruited. To reach that level of ability, he swam competitively since the age of five and dragged himself to a swimming pool six days a week for 10 years. I know, because I would drive him at 4:00 in the morning every day to a rec center so he could hop into a cold pool and do laps for an hour and a half, while I shivered under a blanket in my car in the parking lot during winter months, trying to save gas and ward off hypothermia. (And I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it.)

Our youngest is at the College of William and Mary, as a double major in international relations and German. She also busted her tail in high school - honors student, German Honor Society, theater, excellent grades and SAT scores (nobody correcting her answers either) to get into this wonderful university that boasts Thomas Jefferson among its alums.

I point this out because my wife and I could not imagine paying people to have our kids cheat or bribing university officials to say our kid is a collegiate-level athlete if they’re not. Apart from being solidly middle class without the disposable income to pay such bribes, we could not live with the notion that our children cheated the system in order to secure a place in a particular university. They each applied to a variety of colleges, were accepted by some, rejected by others. That’s called life.

Some of the best lessons we learn in life are from our failures, our rejections, our setbacks. Putting aside the immorality of cheating and bribing, why would you deprive your child of the opportunity to grow from dealing with adversity? Adversity builds character. It’s a lesson our forebears have immortalized in fables and adages over millennia.

When young people today seem so focused on what society can do for them, on ways that they have been aggrieved in one form or another, on reasons for which they are supposedly deserving of some special treatment, we can look to Peter Zhu and all the other exceptional young men and women who have chosen to join the ranks of our military as a source of inspiration. I never cease to be amazed that our country continues to produce citizens of this caliber, of this degree of selflessness, who are willing to lay down their lives for the rest of us, when all the messages from media, entertainment, and politicians tell them precisely the opposite.

I hope that Pete’s parents know that he made an enormous contribution to this world in the short time he had to grace it.  I wish all the children of our country could learn from his example. God bless America and Peter Zhu.


His parents have established a GoFundMe account with proceeds going to benefit the Peter Zhu Pre-Medical Memorial Fund in the Department of Chemistry and Life Science at West Point to aid other pre-medical students at USMA

William F. Marshall has been an intelligence analyst and investigator in the government, private, and non-profit sectors for more than 30 years. He is a senior investigator for Judicial Watch, Inc. (The views expressed are the author’s alone, and not necessarily those of Judicial Watch.)