We’re headed to England shortly to walk the Wainwright Coast to Coast, something which my husband and I have dreamed of for quite some time. In some ways it is impractical to take a trip of this magnitude at this time, but we wouldn’t be able to take it without you because you taught me how to save and to plan and to budget and to live life debt free. Without these core financial values, this trip would be an impossibility.
I learned by watching you navigate three jobs the value of hard work, particularly the importance of blue collar labor. I started working at fourteen because I admired you and wanted to be like you. I always held an after-school job and sometimes two or three in the summer: I waitressed, and tutored, and babysat, and worked retail. I learned that even on the road to college, that even with a college degree, no type of work is beneath me. I learned what it’s like to be exhausted on your feet, to serve over a hundred people in a day and to have only one person ask you in reply, “And how are you today?” Too many of the young adults I know today have never had a job on the way to college; they have never had a job where they worked in service to others. It’s humbling and empowering to know that if at any point the plans I have elegantly arranged for myself unravel, I can do any kind of honorable work with ease and grace.
Even though you struggled with literacy, you encouraged me to be a reader and read to me even when it was difficult. Reading and writing helped me win the scholarships that eased the cost of undergrad and obliterated the cost for graduate school. Even though your own education was disillusioning, you saw education as a means of empowerment, a way to be one’s own boss, and you pushed me steadfast in the direction of the best school we could afford.
As a first generation college student, back in the late 90’s, I looked over my college acceptances with glee and excitement. I couldn’t wait to leave home, to move into a dorm, and to immerse myself in the aesthetic I imagined college to be-ivy covered neo-classical buildings on a New England Liberal Arts College campus, where I would sit on the quad surrounded by brilliant and beautiful co-eds, wearing khakis and cashmere sweaters. I worked diligently in high school toward what I thought was a dream that was owed to me for my efforts. What I did not want was a SUNY campus designed in New Brutalist architecture, under a sky with less than 21 days of sunshine per year, and a town that was comprised mostly of liquor stores, CVS pharmacies and churches, where it snowed from October to May; I did not want to go to state university. Regardless of any of my dreams or wants, you knew that state university was what we could afford and you had the foresight to understand the seductions of debt. Although I didn’t want to go to SUNY, you made me go. You acted like a parent, and by making me go to SUNY, you protected me from a lifetime of unbearable debt and discomfort. There are not adequate words to describe how important a decision it was to attend SUNY and how this decision really altered the course of my life.
We didn’t know that 9/11 was going to happen, that we were going to be involved in two wars, that the economy was slowly disintegrating, that the collapse was beginning just as we signed the dotted line of the Direct Loan papers. We didn’t know that SUNY, the SUNY I attended of the early oughts, would be a premier education, or that this would be the place where I would meet my husband and make life long friends. We didn’t know that this education would pave the way for a full ride through graduate school or that our parsimonious decision would enable me to be one of the first to pay back my loans. We didn’t know that the Higher Ed bubble was going to burst, that our neighbors who attended dream New England Liberal Arts College would struggle.
This probably has more to do with luck and fortune, then any prudent decision making, but it’s a good thing you had me in 1982; if I attended SUNY even two years later, the tuition would have been out of our reach. We didn’t know that state funding for education would slowly disappear and that the SUNY system would be undermined; we didn’t know that I would be the last class to graduate with a fair tuition rate.
Your practicality and clear logical thinking enabled me to have a manageable post-grad life in my 20’s, something that has set me up for a more secure trentagenarian life. In honor of Father’s Day, in front of the blogosphere and all those lurking around this page, I thank you for my financial freedom. Coast to Coast here we come!