I have had a very successful career in Corporate America. I was never promoted to VP (nor did I aspire to be) but I made a very good living working at Fortune 500 companies negotiating complex contracts. I have always said it was the perfect job for a nice Jewish girl: I got to spend millions of dollars of someone else’s money while shopping around for the best price.
I watched my friends work 80 hour weeks for a salary less than mine. They often wrestled with paying off enormous student loans. However, they all had something I was missing… and here is my confession: I never completed my college degree.
It wasn’t for lack of trying.
After volunteering for Ronald McDonald House and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, I discovered a passion for helping cancer patients. However, I didn’t want to do 10+ years of medical school nor did I want to work in the psychology field, so I found my niche in diagnostic imaging. I was accepted into a prominent program in Nuclear Medicine Technology, but the school was in Southern California and I was (still am actually) Canadian. So, even though it was a state school, I had to pay close to $20K a year in tuition. I struggled mightily to make ends meet. Yet close to my final year, which was supposed to be a year-long unpaid clinical internship, I confronted the ugly truth that I could not afford to pay for the rest of my education. Holding a Canadian passport disqualified me from financial aid, while my student visa prohibited me from working more than 20 hours a week.
I am very proud of how far I have come since then in spite of not having a degree and being born on the wrong side of the 49th parallel. Yet I still feel ashamed, embarrassed, inferior. This feeling bubbles to the surface at inopportune moments, like when I write for Kveller and feel like the odd woman out amongst all the other academically accomplished writers. I have always wanted to go back to school and unburden myself of this nagging sense of fraud and failure. But there was never the time or the money.
Fast forward 20 years. My husband and I toured a school for our son last week. It would basically be just a glorified nursery to start, but this wonderful Jewish day school goes all the way up to eighth grade. If we choose to stay in Connecticut and Aiven likes it there, I think it would be great for him to have that continuity, grow up with his cohorts, and see his Jewish education through to graduation.
Hmm, I didn’t see my education through. What message would this be sending to my son? What would my son think of me when he was old enough to understand? Would he see me for the hypocrite I feel I am?
By sheer coincidence, I was looking at the University of Connecticut website that very night, searching for a job board to post a position for my company. I happened upon a page for a Bachelor of General Studies. Not wanting to read it and weep, I forwarded it to my husband. He checked it out and without even mentioning it to me, he ordered my high school and college transcripts that same night. Because if not now, when? And, as he pointed out, the campus is a whopping three blocks from our house. No more excuses.
The application is printed and almost filled out. I am writing an essay. And, God willing, I will become a part-time college student in the fall. Yes, I am going back to school. I am going to finish my degree.
I want my son to be proud of me and I want to set an example for him. Although I do want him to learn that success, happiness, and an education is measured by more than a degree, I also want him to learn that life is best lived without regrets. It might take me a few years to finish my degree, but life only hands you so many second chances, and I never pass up a second chance to make a dream come true.