Get an education, the masses said. It's the surest way to ensure a prosperous future. Study hard, the teachers said, and the world will be yours. I listened to their entreaties. I always listened without fail. The alternative was a frightening prospect. Thoughts loomed in my mind of wasted potential, missed opportunities, and an uncertain future, ill-prepared for.
So I studied and I strived, joined clubs, and played music. I swam on the team, volunteered, and took challenging classes. When my parents received the letter that I had been accepted to Georgetown University, they cried. My dad, all six feet three inches of him, weeped.
Towards the end of my time as an undergraduate, I was ready to venture out into the real world and ride this promising wave of momentum. I walked across the stage, received my diploma, and uttered to myself, "I have arrived." Love kept me in Washington for two years after graduating. A string of less than desirable jobs there eventually led me back home to New Jersey. Yet every position, however volatile, taught me something critical. I value these experiences as necessary for my journey. The difficult lessons were the most formative. I grappled with the disillusionment of the entry level space, desperate to yell at someone, anyone, "But I have ideas. I can do things. Please just let me show you." After many tears, more positions left then I care to divulge (one lasted eight days, yes you heard correctly), and the festering fear that maybe I wasn't cut out for the world of work, I was fortunate to find a nurturing and motivating boss. He taught me a lot about the web and practical things. Most significant were his lessons about valuing what is truly significant: time wth loved ones. Although I no longer work there, this experience gave me a renewed faith that there was decency to be found beyond Healy Gates.
I've yet to receive a return on investment in a purely quantitative sense of the word. My loans roll in and my husband and I work to make the bills month to month. My parents are still saddled with a bulk of the debt that amasses when a child attends a premier institution in a blue collar family. At marriage preparation they told us to save a small fortune in the case of a tragedy. Have they seen the job market? Have they experienced the doldrums of entry level positions, of having your idealism squelched and your sensitivity misconstrued for weakness and inadequacy? I had faith that being a good student would be enough and believed the future would naturally take care of itself. I was so entranced by the experiences unraveling around me that I forgot to lay concrete plans. I've arrived, an adult, and yet I still feel so lost. But here is what I do know for certain...
In my four years in university, I experienced more than I ever dreamed was possible. In the nation's capital the world rested at my fingertips, literally for the taking. Decisions made had tangible outcomes. For every action, an equal but opposite reaction. In college, this law of nature rang true with blatant proof. With effort came achievement, and it was measurable. I could touch it, and appreciate the feeling of having found it. I was validated. There were committees, certifcates of completion, and curricula. Syllabi outlined metrics for success and with a meticulous attention to detail, they were completed every time. In those four years I discovered my fervor to achieve and to contribute. The single most valuable takeaway university afforded me was the ability to think. This precious gift I will use every day for the rest of my existence, whether I end up a high-power professional, a diligent nurturer, a vagabond or a combination of them all.
In those four years, I flew 22 hours to Hong Kong and danced in an obscure club with bright students from all over the world, one more driven than the next. I walked out of my dorm room and trotted straight to the Inauguration, Aretha's voice singing the National Anthem still echoing in my ears. I studied abroad in Italy with my classmates. We lived in a charming convent on the corner of a quaint brick road in a small town. We chatted animatedly in the sunny garden, digesting each page of culture and possibility. We prepared meals from scratch each day with fresh ingredients retrieved from the center of town and fed stray dogs to the disdain of the locals. We prayed in Assissi and looked on in awe at Carmina Burana under a starless Italian sky. We sang songs and picked lemons in the Amalfi Coast. I discovered the joy of being a part of a grassroots movement endeavoring to make the world better, more accepting. As cliché as it may seem, during those four years it became evident that young adults if given the opportunity are capable of astounding works. In our naivete, we think not of limitations, only of what we will need to achieve the desired end we so desperately crave.
I biked miles through the center of the city, a herald for friendship and inclusion. I dined at the residence of the Vice President, several embassies, and in poorly lit dorm rooms with tomorrow's leaders. I befriended individuals who would stand by me the day I wed, who I would laugh with and cry with, and spend countless hours on the phone while eating ice cream with. I met a vivacious spitfire from Newark, a German teacher full of grace, countless doctors, entrepreneurs, and humanitarians, a brilliant attorney, and change makers when they were at the very beginning of their respective journeys. And while time and space will separate us, the chant of Hoya Saxa will keep us tethered regardless.
I ate Ethiopian food for the first time, lent my voice to sing in front of the Pope, and danced in the dark at the 930 club. High tea at the Willard Hotel, the National Tree Lighting, long nights in the library, and being called to action. A job I sought to make a little extra money was the place I laid eyes on a quiet Chef with expressive hazel eyes that would become my husband. I felt the joy of participation and community. I found my path to advocate for and with the individuals our society all too often casts aside thanks to the welcoming smile of a young woman with Down Syndrome at the student activites fair. I dreamt of possibilities in a cramped corner of countless Amtrak trains, chatted with strangers if just for a moment, and ate french fries and falafel out of a cone. I fell in love with learning.
It's best for my soul and my mind to accept that it's ok I have yet to recoup what it cost to attend, earn a commanding salary or some lofty title. It's ok I will be forever indebted to my family for sending me to this home away from home on the hill. Every victory no matter how small, I can attribute to this selfless gift of theirs. Every opportunity to think critically, to extend a hand of compassion, to contribute is born of this gift. Selfishly, I want to be significant and Georgetown gave me significance. It gave me a badge of honor to affix to my chest. A navy G that safeguarded my worth. Alas, my surroundings have changed but the spark is still within me. Those four years will always be mine.
I'm still searching and striving, making plans and having faith. There are no syllabi to help guide my path, or grades to provide the affirmation that I seek. I departed the era of four year concrete compartments with prescribed outcomes and leapt in to the great abyss of adulthood. Maybe this fire that's burning inside is success enough for today, for a lifetime even. Maybe I've been too ignorant to see glimmering proof of this return on investment in the every day.
I have for you a treat with a hidden surprise. As we sometimes have trouble seeing the treasure in the simple, here is crumb cake with a twist. Begin with this Crumb cake from Martha Stewart Living, then fold in your favorite fruit preserves before topping with crumbs. Bake according to the recipe and enjoy the sweetness you've been overlooking.