A Dream Fulfilled

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On December 19, 1973, a fifteen year old girl spent the evening writing in her journal.  She wrote about what had happened to her that year, who her friends were, what music she and her friends listened to, and whom she had a crush.  She also wrote about the future.  She had "dreams of being somebody successful" and dreams of "accomplishing something that she knew she really worked for”.   This young girl also wrote about the economic realities of her life when she acknowledged that to get a college degree, she "would most definitely need a scholarship”.  For this fifteen year old to even be thinking about college was unusual because not one person in her entire family had ever even attended college and there were certainly no expectations for her to get more than a high school diploma.  Little did this young girl know that she would achieve her goals, but the road to doing so would be long and arduous.  I am that young girl, and this is the story of the seventeen year journey I took to get the degree that I longed for in 1973.
I am one of six children, and although we never lacked for a roof over our heads or food in our stomachs, there was little money for anything else and no money for college.  I did get some scholarship money upon graduating from high school, but I had to work two jobs to make ends meet.  I soon found it difficult to balance school with work, and I left college after my second semester.  Soon after leaving college, I went to work in a bank and got my first apartment.  My dream of a college degree faded into the background.
In 1979, I got a job with the local telephone company.  One of the women who started the same day I did introduced me to her friend from college and in 1981, five years after I graduated from high school, I married my husband.  Ironically enough, he had the degree that I had yearned for back in 1973, but he didn’t even use it.  Instead, he worked with his hands doing something he loved.  Over the next eight years, we bought a house, had three daughters, and did all of the things that young couples do. 
In spite of not having a degree, I did well in my job and was able to move up a few rungs on the corporate ladder.  With each promotion that I received, I found myself surrounded by people with degrees from some of the best schools in the nation.  When the conversation turned to alma maters, I quickly changed the subject because I didn’t want to admit that my alma mater was Southern High School in Baltimore, Maryland not Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
After our last daughter was born in March of 1989, I realized that I would be hard pressed to preach to my girls about the importance of a college education if I didn’t have a degree myself.  As we said at the telephone company at the time, “I needed to walk the talk.”  I began to look into what schools had classes that I could take between my job as a mom and my job at the telephone company.                 In September 1989, with a five year old daughter, a three year old daughter, and a six month old daughter, I enrolled in evening classes at my local community college.  Six very long years later, on May 25, 1996, I received an Associate of Arts degree in General Studies.  I clearly remember my girls, eleven, nine, and six at the time, cheering when I walked across the stage.  I remember breathing a sigh of relief that I had achieved my goal.  I looked forward to evenings with my family instead of evenings with my classmates.  However, this period of relative inactivity was short-lived because I decided to take just one more class.
n September 1996, I started a class at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland’s Weekend College.  This one class became nineteen more classes over the course of the next four years.  On May 27th, 2000, I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Services Administration.  My girls at the time were seventeen, fifteen, and eleven.  They were proud of me, but they were also anticipating having a mom who wasn’t missing in action on the weekends.  Incapable of leaving well enough alone, I applied for the Master’s Program at the College of Notre Dame and started the first of thirteen required classes in September 2000.
Shortly after starting my Master’s Program, I was asked to interview for an executive level position.  I could not have interviewed for this position prior to my graduation in May because my company required executives to have at least a four year degree.  I got the promotion and, over the next six years, my responsibilities at work increased dramatically.  I often found myself on the train between Baltimore and New York doing school work and responding to work emails almost simultaneously.  I remember being on calls with classmates until midnight working on “group projects”.  I remember being at my daughters’ sporting events cheering between homework assignments.
Somehow, it all came together and on May 26th, 2006, seventeen years after my education journey began, I received my final degree, a Master of Arts in Management with a concentration in Finance.  My daughter, who was a baby when I started this journey, was then a junior in high school.  Having a mom who was a student was all she ever knew.
Many reading this will wonder if our girls suffered from having a mom who was either gone in the evenings or gone on the weekends.  Perhaps they did, but I would like to think that my absence in their lives contributed to the wonderful relationship that they built with my husband and still have today.  I would also like to think that I showed our girls that I “accomplished something that I really worked for.”  Our girls are now twenty-eight, twenty-six, and twenty-two.  Our oldest is a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital, our middle is a teacher, and our youngest is a nurse. I hope that they learned the importance of education and hard work from watching me go through my journey.  Those seventeen years between 1989 and 2006 were some of the toughest years of my life, but I wouldn’t change them for anything.  I am proud of my girls and proud of my thirty year marriage, and I am also proud that I fulfilled the dream of that fifteen year old girl in 1973.


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