Monday, February 2, 2009

You would never know it if you met me on the street

It is not obvious, and is not easily detected or revealed. You would never know it if you met me on the street. Or at a cocktail party. Or on the playground. It occasionally comes up in conversation. Not often. And until now has not weighed on me.

It didn't affect my earlier life as an actress, a massage therapist, or an Executive Assistant. My daughter has not asked about it yet, but I feel the time approaching. Fast. And I don't yet know how I will explain it. I have not been overly conscious of feeling ashamed. Yet, for the first time this week, I did feel something resembling...shame.

I overheard my daughter and my husband talking together during the Super Bowl.

I want the Pittsburgh Steelers to win.

Why, Daddy?

Because that's where Daddy went to college.

Just words. Ordinary words. Yet...I am not a college graduate, and now it bothers me. Because I will have to explain why to my daughter when she asks. And my reasons? Years ago...solidified by youthful ego and blindness. The reasons now sound very weak.

At some point, I might want to go back to complete a degree. But, it wouldn't be for the usual reasons: furthering a career trajectory, or even the satisfaction of finishing something that I started. No. It would be because... I want my daughter to know that I value a college education. I'm not sure why I'm focused on my daughter knowing this, rather than both of my children. But, it feels important for her to know this about me. And, that's all I know...

*****Note: Well! What wonderful thoughtful comments. Thank you. I've commented on a few things below. Thanks for the discussion!

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  1. Whether its important to her is not the crucial issue - the crucial issue is whether it is important to you. (And don't forget that it can be a lot of fun and work and ... too.)

  2. could it be because she is a girl?
    you wouldn't want her to have the impression that its NOT necessary for girls to go college?
    lady, there are times whereby what you expect may not come; she might never ask "Mommy, where is your college?"

    why not flip the coin and make her go "Wow". You didn't go college, yet you are so successful in so many ways... college or not, its aspiring in your talents that counts.

  3. This is a really interesting post...we have strong feelings about this, as currently too many kids in the UK go on to university, and we have stupid numbers of degree students who can't find a job afterwards.
    I would say that whether you choose to get a degree or not has more to do with your chosen career, and less to do with a feeling that you ought to!
    Don't feel bad that you didn't go to college - you are the person you are...and that is far more impressive and important than a piece of paper!

  4. I have a similar concern. I went, and did not finish. Now I have 2 daughters very near to having to choose a college, so it's no time for me to think of spending tuition money on myself. Plus, not finishing has had no impact on my career thus far. Yet, I think I want to go back to school to prove something to myself.

  5. Is it college that is important, or making the most of one's potential? I have always thought that college was a great place to grow and to become, but there are other life experiences that can serve the same purpose. As an artist, you received training whether you realize it or not. And you made the choices that were best for you at the time.

    It is important to share your feelings with your children -- I do, even when they're complicated and take more than one conversation.

    But don't doubt the path that brought you to where you are.

    Keeping a good thought for you,

  6. How about explaining to your kid why you let their grandparents spend money to send you to college, worked your butt off, got good grades, then didn't use your degree? Tons of people I know (myself included) will have to explain that. If you go, I'm pretty sure I know what you should go for - Journalism.

  7. If YOU want it, and it's meaningful to YOU, then go for it. If not, don't sweat it. I went to college, but my Mom didn't, and I never questioned her intelligence or her commitment to my education.

  8. I have been exactly where you were. I accomplished a lot and served on many committees alongside doctors and lawyers and scientists who would have been shocked to learn I was not a college graduate.

    I graduate in May--for me, yes, but it is nice to be able to show my children I value education. Go back. Go for you. Go because you will always have a niggling feeling if you don't.

  9. Hey all! Thanks for all the encouraging comments.

    Just to clarify a couple of things:

    I have no intention of going back to college (I completed 1 year) any time soon, but it could be something to do in years to come. A challenge that would be welcome at a time when my children are focused on lives of their own, perhaps.

    A college education is something that is tremendously valued in my family of origin. My maternal grandmother went to college, which was very unusual for her time. My paternal grandfather arrived in America from Scotland when he was a child, and pulled himself up by his to speak, so that his children could go to college. My mom went to Cornell. My dad went to Duke. When I decided to drop out of college (because I was going to be an actress and didn't need it!), it was a huge shock and disapointment to my family. However, they certainly don't hold it against me in any way. I am the only one in my family, in my generation and the one before (my parents generation) that didn't complete college.

    My husband went to Carnegie-Mellon. It was and is a nonissue to him whether I have a college degree. :)

    I don't spend much energy thinking about it, but it hit me this weekend - hence the blog post.

    When I talk about valuing a college education, I am speaking more of the life experience of college - having that time to explore without being out in the real world yet. I value that. Of course, I value the degree, but it is more the experience I am talking about.

    Dan, I agree that the most important thing is how I feel about it, as that reflects back to my children. But, it is interesting that I value a college education, yet I don't have one. And, my daughter's opinion of me does matter.

    I value the life experiences I have had and how intelligent I am, but I am sorry that I missed that college experience at a young age.

    And, Angeline, you nailed it on the head. There were days when women weren't allowed to go to colelge, so YES I think it resonates with me more re: my daughter. And with the GIRL that I have...she could very well ask me tomorrow. Believe me, she could! :)

    Midwest Mom - I loved what you said about having discussions with your children about difficult subjects/emotions, even if it takes more than one conversation. Yes! I am a huge believer in this.

    I so appreciate your thoughtful comments, as always!

  10. I found your post very interesting as well.

    For me, the value of college (the real value) was the experience, not the degree (although I had to have the degree to move forward with my other plans). But now, at midlife, I barely remember anything I learned ACADEMICALLY but I sure remember what I learned about people, forging lasting relationships with my contemporaries and learning how to live independently. I don't think college is the only place young people learn these important things but it's certainly an experience that provides an incredible number of life lessons in a very short (relatively) period of time.

    Great post.

  11. Let me add my "me, too." I left after 3 years, with two years left to go since I had a double major and would have needed that much time to finish. At this point, I'm on the fence, though I would like to go back for a particular degree that's just for me.

    In our house, my husband feels more strongly about it than I do. He would very much like to see me finish. Which, predictably, makes me want it less. Because I'm contrary like that. :-)

    The learning for its own sake is the thing that tugs at me more than the idea of a degree.

    I think one day you'll decide you want it for sure, or not. And I know your daughter will see you for all of your successes and accomplishments.

  12. clearly life has been a good school for you, and I hereby bestow upon you an honorary degree from Painted Maypole University

  13. I am not a college graduate. Life interrupted the process. I rose through the ranks and up the ladder the hard way, with no regrets. Don't be ashamed! There's no reason for it whatsoever.

  14. Don't know how a natural intellectual like yourself managed to wiggle her way out of getting a diploma, but I applaud your efforts. The world needs more brainy mavericks. :-)

    Jokes aside, I totally get your concerns with your daughter.

  15. I have faced the same questions and it left me doubting my own worth more than I should have. So I went back to school. I was a full time student with a 3.8 average for two semesters and I didn't enjoy it at all. In the end life intervened and I had to take a semester off and, after much soul searching, I decided not to go back again. Now I call myself a serial dropout and I'm mostly ok with it. My kids know that I feel college is important but I can accept that it isn't the only path to the future.

  16. I saw a segment on the news that said college graduates are not guaranteed success and many non-college grads are more successful. My daughter wants to go to fashion design school over college. I'm cool with it.
    I went but I'm not using my degree these days. I will admit I had fun though ;)

  17. Great discussion - sorry I'm late to the party.

    I went to college, but because it was something I was raised to expect I'd do. I had no idea what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, and even what kind of learning environment was best for me - I simply went, because that was what I was expected to do, and I went to the state college my friends were going to.

    Needless to say, I did not value my college experience much. I got a degree in something that doesn't need a degree for success, and I had a shitty GPA.

    Many years later, I've worked on the staff at 4 major universities, married an academic, and have learned to value the college experience much more, and regret my wasting of it.

    I am contemplating going back and getting a masters degree. For work? Maybe. But also just because the experience of being in the classroom and having to engage your brain with ideas and analysis is an incredible experience.

    Having a degree you can USE is important, but also being forced/urged to study, think, analyze, research, etc. etc. is a really wonderful, enriching experience on its own.

  18. What an interesting post. I will now add you to the list of the intelligent, well-read, thoughtful, and entirely admirable people I know who do not possess a BA.

  19. You write beautifully, and I can promise you (as a college instructor) that many grads can't. But I will say this, my best students are moms just like you. They want to show their kids that they value education and goals. They also want to take away any excuses from their kids: "If mom can do it, so can you."

  20. If you want it, it IS yours. This was very interesting JCk.

  21. I will dare to predict that GIRL (and all her friends) will be much more impressed that you were a PAID ACTRESS! Geez, lots of moms go to college -- some of us even go on to get Ph.D.s -- but the set and orchestra pit are littered with wannabe, not-even-close- to-successful actresses.

    I echo the majority: Go if you want, but don't even begin to imagine that GIRL will be less proud of you for lack of a degree.

  22. Well, here I come, late and with nothing original to say. But when has that ever stopped me? :)
    A college degree is no indication of intelligence. I know many people with PhDs who have less sense than a box of rocks, and are not nearly as interesting. And someone else mentioned the problem of explaining to your children why you aren't using those fancy degrees you paid money for. (My money, in my case, loans and scholarships.) I would trade much for NOT having a number of the life experiences college gave me.

    And I think Kalynne is right, just based on my own experience. All I ever wanted to do was act and I didn't have the gumption to flip everybody off and just go do it.

    You know, I'm not really this bitter. Well, maybe I am, but I usually hide it better. (Just say yes and we'll all be fine.)

  23. Neither of my parents graduated from college. It didn't put a dent in my respect for them or my respect for getting an education myself. It's the life you live, the learning you put in your life, not the degree.

    But I do agree, go for YOU, not to avoid some feared notion of shame your daughter might have some day. You would be the student every prof dreams of. And you would teach them a thing or two.


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