$80,000 on a Wall

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Sam and I graduated from Hardin-Simmons University last May.  It was a huge accomplishment for both of us, and we’re proud of our diplomas.  We were in a “migratory stage” all summer, so for the past four months they’ve sat in our closet in envelopes.  I finally made the trip to Hobby Lobby today and got them framed, and now they’re hanging in our house where we can see them every day.

That diploma is symbolic of many late night study sessions, lots of stressed-out tears, and several very lucky guesses on certain exams.  I worked very hard in college.  I probably took my classes a little too seriously at some points.  One example that comes to mind is my anguish over the C I received in one of my classes during my semester abroad in London.  It was my only C of my college career; everything else was straight A’s.  I remember sitting on a bench in Russell Square and spending a fortune to call Sam back in America to cry about it.  I labored over research papers, made obsessive flash cards, and never turned in a late assignment.

I figured, if I was spending all that money to go to college, I might as well make sure I do my best.  As I look at that paper on the wall, though, a tiny part of me wonders why I even went to college.  I mean, here I am, Bachelor’s Degree in hand with a 3.98, and I can’t even get a job at a local Target.  What was the point of going through all this work if I can’t seem to find a job now?  I can’t even begin to think about the mountain of student loans I’ll have to climb over before Sam and I can think about starting a family.  Why did I go to college in the first place?

That question takes me back to my senior year of high school.  I don’t remember anyone asking me if I was going to college, let alone if I wanted to go to college.  The question was always, “Where are you going to college?”  It was drilled into everyone since seventh grade: Get good grades so you can get into a good school.  Join student council so you can put it on your college applications.  Don’t act up; it’ll go on your permanent record and you won’t get into a good school.  I took the SAT and ACT and made decent grades on both, which determined my future: I wasn’t good enough for the Ivy League, but I could get into something besides community college.

I picked Hardin-Simmons because it was the best school that accepted me.  I wanted the best.  A part of me knew that the best also meant the most expensive, but I was prepared to accept that if it meant I could be the best.  Why did I pack up my things and go to college?  There were several reasons, I think:

  1. Everyone told me to go.
  2. I wanted to be independent and on my own.
  3. I wanted to make more money.
  4. I wanted to make new friends.
  5. I wanted to find my husband (I know that one is pretty cliché, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t include it on the list!).

I don’t regret going to school.  It was one of the best decisions I ever made.  I made friends to last me a lifetime, met my soulmate, traveled the world, became a better writer, and learned a lot about myself as a person.  I loved and still love my university.

Still, though, that’s a very expensive piece of paper in that frame.  As I think about how long it will take me to pay it off, and the extra measures I’ll have to go through to find and excel at a job I actually want, I understand a little better that my education was a purchase.  The only bigger purchase I’ll make in my life might be buying a house one day.  I bought my education as a tool, and it’s up to me now to use it.  Like any tool, I might have to get creative and use it in an unorthodox way to let it help achieve my goals.

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