One of my assignments for Teach for America is to write my “Story of Self.” This is a story about my educational trajectory. What happened in my education to make me who I am. What happened in my history to make me committed to TFA’s cause of educational equity. Well after a few failed attempts, I’ve got it down…
“I’m not paying for college,” he said. I sat there, thinking I should be stunned, but I wasn’t. Of course my dad wasn’t going to help pay for me to go to school. It had always been that way. He fought battle after battle against my mother my entire childhood. Everything from child support to money for camp was a fight. And there was no reason. My dad was a person of means, plenty of means. He could send me to college easily, wherever I wanted to go. But he hated my mother and he loved to control me. I wanted to go, so of course I couldn’t. He wanted me to go to community college and not “waste” my money at a four-year school. And though I shouldn’t have, I heard loud and clear, you’re not worth the investment.
There was only one school I wanted to go to. I grew up going to a summer camp that I adored. Most of the staff came from Christian colleges on the west coast. Whitworth, a small Presbyterian school in Spokane, Washington, had my heart. I wanted it more than anything. I had the grades to get in and then some. I worked hard in school. I was a yearbook editor, I took AP classes, I worked a part time job. I felt like I deserved this. I didn’t get into honors classes to go to community college.
I should have been crushed by my dad’s words, but I wasn’t. My entire life had been a battle of wills between my dad and I and it had created a stubborn streak a mile wide. I was willful, if not openly defiant. Even in school, if I disagreed with a teacher I had no qualms about voicing my opinion. I was a delight to have in class. My dad should have realized telling me I couldn’t go to the school of my dreams was the last thing he should have done.
What my dad failed to put together is that I had a very powerful ally in my back pocket: my mother. My mom backed my decisions big and small. If I had a disagreement with my teachers, youth minister, or my dad she had my back. My mom had always been my fierce advocate, defending my decisions and my abilities. She didn’t doubt me and for that reason I didn’t doubt myself.
I came home from my dad’s house after we’d had the college discussion. I remember sitting in my mom’s bathroom and talking about how we were going to pay for college. I was thinking about not going. My mom just said, we’ll make it work. She’d get a job, we’d take out a student loan, she and my step-dad would help any way they could. They didn’t have the means that my dad had, but they could help. My mom was always there for me to support me in whatever I wanted to do. And here she was again, making my college dreams possible.
I only applied to Whitworth. I sobbed uncontrollably when I got in. So did my mom. My mom flew to Whitworth with me that fall. We both bawled when she left and I started my college education. But my time at Whitworth was the best four years. It was everything I could have imagined and more. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my time there.