College Dreams

Filed Under Writing 

This is an older piece, written for The Star-Herald in May 2004 after my brother received his PhD.

On May 25, my younger brother walked across the stage at Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, N.J., and officially became Dr. Jason Woodsome Harger, Ph.D. in molecular genetics.

Not bad for a kid whose first career goal was to be a mailbox.

OK, so that was when he was 2 years old, but it’s still quite a leap.

Following the ceremony, we all headed back to his in-laws’ home in Garfield, N.J., for the celebratory feast. Somewhere between roasted red peppers and ice cream cake, the conversation turned to college aspirations. All of us “kids” at the table concurred that it was always a given we would go to college; we just had to decide where, and what we would study.

It wasn’t a question of privilege. My sister-in-law’s parents are Macedonian immigrants who never attended college. Our father enlisted in the Air Force after high school and then received his bachelor’s degree on the GI Bill. The company he then worked for paid for his master’s degree. Our mother had to drop out of college after her first year because she had to work to help support her family. It wasn’t until years after we were born that she went back for her associate’s degree in nursing – a degree she got so she could earn enough money to put us (Jason, our older sister Gretchen and me) through college.

Is every person cut out for college? I think so, but personality and aptitude must be considered.

You might be a genius, but flunk out of Purdue University (student enrollment 38,847) because you need more one-on-one attention in order to stay focused and succeed. Or, Harvard University might be too much of an academic challenge, but Northern Maine Community College offers the extra help you need.

Jason, for example, switched from Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania to Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey) after he realized two things: he wanted to attend a more research-oriented school and he didn’t like being in such a rural area. He still completed his bachelor’s degree in four years – and wound up meeting his future wife on his “new” campus.

Hey, I changed my major three times at the University of Connecticut. I started in computer engineering and ended up an English major.

In this day of increasing work specialization, advanced schooling beyond high school is more important than ever, but too many people rule out college because of preconceived ideas about higher education or themselves.

So here’s my message to the graduating classes of 2004: don’t sell yourselves short. You never know – one of your sisters could embarrass you one day by writing about receiving your Ph.D. in molecular genetics.

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