We all have regrets about actions taken or not taken, opportunities we bypassed, things we did not consider important but actually were. We attempt to justify to ourselves why it was really not too bad, but the regrets eat away at us. We avoid talking about it.
One of my greatest regrets is one I seldom discuss, not even with friends who are in the same situation. It is definitely not something I discuss with my colleagues in the education policy/advocacy world. It gives me great shame and I live in fear that others will learn of it, upon which all my experience and expertise will be rendered irrelevant.
I do not have a college degree.
It is strange that I never completed college considering my grandmother was one of the first 150 women admitted to the bar in Wisconsin (and then California, Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut). My father had two engineering degrees. A close friend of the family who I knew and admired since childhood received both the Nobel Prize for Chemistry and the Nobel Peace Prize.
Then again, perhaps it was not so strange.
I grew up without my father. My mother was in and out of remission, so I had to be the adult in the family. I had to work almost full-time when I was in seventh grade. I had to make sure my mom was eating and taking her medications. By the time I reached adulthood, I was sick and tired of having to take care of other people.
I attended community college while working full time. I attended a Catholic seminary for a couple of semesters. I studied philosophy. Over the years, I thought about finishing college, but life always got in the way. Whether it was a dying family member or being the sole breadwinner in my family, I kept putting it off. I became a software engineer, which enabled me to make a decent living—at times.
Without a college degree, I faced roadblocks. Applying for jobs meant that I always examined the requirements first. Was a college degree required or was experience an acceptable alternative? Luckily for me, the tech sector had a little more leeway in this respect (although this situation is declining quickly). The number of jobs that I did not apply for, and was capable of doing well, is as massive as the number I did apply for and did not get.
It did not matter that I worked in many sectors ranging from agriculture to politics. I did not have a college degree and that took precedence over my experience.
Nevertheless, I have been fortunate. I have been able to make a living and mostly live a middle-class lifestyle. There are so many others who are not as fortunate.
In my time working in public education, I have seen and heard of numerous cases where children are written off early, judgments made that a particular student will not overcome poverty or lackluster parenting.
“College is not for them.”
This attitude incenses me. I approach education from the perspective that every single child, regardless of background, has the potential to become a Nobel Laureate, but when we cast off the futures of children because of their backgrounds, we crush their spirits. We show them that we do not believe in them.
Every single child is precious and deserves the highest quality education possible. Society promised this to them, but for many children the promises end up being vacuous.
I know the feeling when doors of opportunity slam in your face. Not all kids will go to college, but every kid in this country should be treated as if they were planning to. Their background shouldn’t matter.
And yes, after my son attends and graduates from college, I will finally rectify this error.
I will finally go back to college.