When I’m writing, I’ve learned that I’m onto something significant if the story makes me cry during the course of it. It doesn’t mean the story is done and I’m still figuring out how to get back in there and continue revision, while staying true to that spirit. But I definitely know I have something worth the effort.
I’ve also realized that I keep a lot of my personal narrative to myself. My friend MaryBeth says I am one of the most private people she knows. Her statement puzzled me the first time she said it, but I have come to feel its depth and truth.
These two realizations came together during the past week when I was in a two-day staff retreat, of all things.
I work with a wonderful organization. Although my work is in the office, making certain that the bills get paid and that our activities stay within the often-changing, counter-intuitive, sometimes seemingly arbitrary University Policy, my heart is really involved in the work we do. We work with a statewide group of middle schools. Our schools all have 50% or more of their students eligible to receive free or reduced-cost lunch. More than one of our schools has 100% eligibility. Think about life in those communities for a minute, if you will. It can’t be easy, right? And yet we work with the adults (principals, teachers, counselors and parents) in those schools to create an academic environment that prepares all of the students to go to college. It is complex, difficult, systemic work and that’s where we spend our days.
On the second day of the retreat, we were asked to do 20 minutes of free writing to answer the questions: Why do you do this work? What is your purpose, cause or belief? Why do you care?, the following response demanded to be written. It felt like a train bearing down on the tracks; there was absolutely no stopping it, despite my discomfort and, frankly, unwillingness to take the journey. It’s the first time I’ve told my co-workers of 7 years my story.
So here it is, a rough little stone of a story on which I will continue to work.
I am a first generation college student.
My Dad had an 8th grade education and he lived with a daily frustration. He felt trapped in his job. He felt oppressed by receiving a raise of ten cents an hour on an annual basis. He did not know how to make a change or feel like he had the resources to do so. He lived between an explosive frustration and a gray, hopeless fall-asleep-after-dinner-in-front-of-the-TV, stumble-to-bed-after-midnight, get-up-and-do-it-again depression.
People deserve a chance. They deserve a chance even when they have made mistakes with consequences.
Education is powerful–even when its power is to help people have a sense of possibility, regardless of the specific course of study.
I am a first generation college student and I can tell you that the path to college is fraught with pitfalls.
FAFSA* “I am not filling out a form to tell some person in an office my personal business. It’s none of their damn business what I earn,” my father shouted before slamming down the phone.
Sure, I’ll sign loan paperwork that I have no idea how I will manage out here on my own, the 18-year-old Blaze thought, later defaulting and having to pick up the pieces and figure it out. Today that loan is paid in full, by the way.
How do kids figure this stuff out if the parents don’t know? They need help.
How do the families figure it out if the counselors and teachers don’t know? They need help.
Not everyone, hardly anyone, can figure it out without help and it gets harder every year. We need to help.
*FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid