Blue Ring

When I was ten my father graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.  We all went to the civic center for his commencement ceremony.  His parents, my grandparents, were there too.  They bought him a class ring with a beautiful blue stone representing his December birthday.  That day changed our lives.

Soon after we moved into a “new” home and my father began to remodel the 1926 house located in a more middle class neighborhood.  He took a new job as a comptroller and earned a much higher salary.  Even at such a young age I could see the benefits of his having graduated from college.  We got things we’d never had before and money wasn’t as tight.  I knew then, and never waivered from it, that I was college bound.

Fast forward 22 years……..

The employee repeated for the third time, her voice growing irritated, ‘”pull forward to the first window!” I answered, a little too loudly and a lot too angry, “I can’t!! My transmission just went out!” My sisters cried out with laughter.

The first Christmas after I moved to South Florida my mother, sisters and nephew came for a visit. Before heading to the beach one day we stopped to get a bucket of chicken for an oceanside picnic.  After I ordered at the drive-thru microphone, I attempted to pull forward.  The transmission of my older model Nissan Sentra chose that moment to die.

I felt like a real class act. I was a 32-year-old woman walking up to the drive-thru window to collect my chicken. My entire family sat on the curb and ate chicken legs in the parking lot of the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard.

I called a tow-truck and had my car towed to my apartment complex parking lot. I rented a car. And I felt like crying. Maybe I did cry. I can’t remember.

I could barely afford my rent. I was driving a car with body damage that I had no intention of having repaired. My vehicle had no air conditioner.  Sometimes I could find just enough change in the ash tray to buy a taco from Taco Bell on my way home from work.  I certainly couldn’t afford a new transmission and a rental car.

I was a poor graduate student and had been for almost five years. I was four months away from defending my dissertation and earning a Ph.D.

One month after I graduated,  I bought my first new car ever. It even had air conditioning!  I have had many new cars with AC since then.  I’ve had several new homes since then.  Going to college and then graduate school changed my life.

There were many influences that made me choose a career in higher education; I’ve worked in the field for 35 years now.  But no influence was greater than seeing my dad study many, many evenings after he’d gotten off work, watch him leave the house to attend classes at “night school” and then watch him graduate.  That blue ring he wore for years was always a reminder; my brother has the ring now.  It’s always been significant to our family.

It’s a well known fact that a person’s lifetime income potential is directly related to her education level.  There’s always the outlier, that exception you can name.  “So and so was a high school dropout and he’s one of the richest men in the world.”  Sure, that happens, but not for most of us. There’s no more certain way to increase one’s earnings than to go to, and graduate from, college.  I’m proud to work in an arena that can change people’s lives so dramatically.  Earning a degree doesn’t just change the person’s life who graduates; it changes families, communities, and society.  I, for one, am an example of that phenomenon.

Thanks for reading my blog.  I hope you’ll follow me at wordpress.com.  Do you have any education stories to tell?  I’d love to hear them.

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