Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Knowledge is Power. But So Is Power.

Coming from a working class family, going to college was something of an ordeal. No one in my immediate family had ever gone to college. Mom got her high school equivalency when I was in 8th grade (I helped her with her homework), and my father went to work in the family waste removal business. When I brought up college the first time, despite good grades and a penchant for journalism, dad laughed and scoffed, "YOU can't go to college!"

It sounds cruel. It felt cruel. But my parents, living paycheck-to-paycheck for my entire life, had zero chance of ever saving a penny for my higher education. The idea was ludicrous. What did it matter how good a student I was or not? "YOU can't go to college!" Ha ha, ha ha ha.

I applied by myself, I filled out miles of Pell Grant and loan paperwork by myself, I researched and applied and got a number of small scholarships and grants. In high school I worked hard after school and on weekends (babysitting, working at a farm). Against all odds, I ended up attending a small, all-women's college in New York. I carried right on working 40+ hours (work-study, retail downtown) between classes, nights and weekends.

Now, over the years several individuals who have had their college education easily paid for, to the point that they never really even thought about it, have informed me that one's access to, and ease of getting, a higher education degree has zero impact whatsoever to do with their success in life. It's actually weird how many times I've had that said to me -- quite smugly, if I'm honest. If anyone wants to see up close what "privilege" looks like, ask one of these lucky people, while he is in the middle of a lecture about "entitlements" and "handouts," who paid for HIS college education? The expression on his face? That's privilege. The self-congratulatory rebuttal he'll then mount -- that's bullshit. One thing about working class folks -- we learned early when you're pissing on our heads and telling us it's champagne, so 'dafuk outta here with that noise.

Folks, for those who would seek higher education, the relative ease of tuition means everything, actually. If you never considered that to be a power launch -- say, like if you never even saw your tuition bills -- then you need to send a nice thank-you card to whoever gave you a good, strong start. Do it now.

A carabiner.
Here is the simple fact. There are only so many available hours in a week. In high school and college, when a large number of those hours are spent working a variety of minimum-wage jobs between classes and on weekends, that means you're not focusing on your grades and activities. While you're at the store doing inventory at 6am, your college roommate is getting some good sleep that powers a fully functioning brain for the exam later that day, the one you arrive to sit for all tired and dusty from crawling around a retail warehouse counting carabiners. When you get off your shift at 11pm and stay up until 3am working on your research for the paper that will be your entire grade for the class, your friends, having finished their outlines hours ago, have been letting off steam at the Irish bar that doesn't check IDs. I didn't attend our junior year ring ceremony because I needed the overtime, not that I could have afforded the ring. I'm not in the yearbook either. I couldn't take any unpaid internships like my classmates did at cool New York magazines, some of whom got hired after graduation, after they breezily achieved that expensive degree that's pretty much, by the way, mandatory in order to get literally anywhere in a competitive workplace. You understand that they don't even want to talk to you unless you get the degree, even though the system is rigged to make it as hard as humanly possible to pay for college.

I just finished paying off my student loans last year. 25 years later.

Here's another thing. I was a pretty good writer in high school. I got a story published at 16, and I was in AP English and won a number of school awards for things like "Interpretation of Literature." I was definitely going to be an English major somewhere. I really wanted Boston. The problem was the money. It was never gonna happen.

In senior year of high school, when everyone began to announce where they were going to college, I was floored when this one designer jeans-wearing party boy, the offspring of a world famous surgeon, said he was going to Boston. To be an English major. Wait. What?

Nice enough kid. Got a Volvo when he turned 16. Did dumb things with his dumb brothers. They did things like skip class and ride around the school grounds on their motorbikes "buzzing" the classroom (riding by the windows and flipping the bird) and making everyone laugh.This idiot was in zero of my classes, or if he was, in four years he'd demonstrated no particular talent for either reading/interpretation nor for writing.  How the hell is he suddenly an English major? And at a top school? Who the hell wrote your essay for you, son? So that guy went to a top Boston school because his family had the money to send him there, that's all. That's privilege.

Tell me again how college tuition assistance doesn't matter. Of course it matters. Jesus. what a load of shit.

I guess what I'm saying is: this bitch can bite me.