When I was watching TV the other day, I saw a campaign advertisement that was everywhere. This time around, she was a female candidate for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and discussed all of her achievements.
There was nothing particularly noteworthy about advertising, except for the fact that it was refreshingly positive and did not involve Vitriol. But something was sticking to me. Others may think it’s completely harmless, but it’s been annoying me for years.
The candidate said she “went to college first in her family.” Many people have used it in the past, the entire story of the American Dream that children who did better than their parents did better than their own parents. It’s a classic story of upward mobility, and who can blame those who are struggling to be proud of their achievements?
But as a kid of his family’s “first college graduate”, and as someone who himself has two degrees paid through a trust fund, a student loan, and some awkward summer work, I Are beginning to realize that there is something really wrong with measuring ourselves at our educational level.
Grandmother Mamie graduated from school in third grade because her mother and father needed her to earn a salary. She worked in cigar factories, candy factories, restaurants, shops, and places where she didn’t care about child labor laws. It covers almost every industry in the early 1900s.
My grandfather Mike was a garbage collector and spent most of his youth and adulthood driving through the city of Philadelphia, collecting garbage from other people.
Her mother, Lucy, completed her studies in 1956 with a diploma from West Catholic Girls and then went on to work. She handed all unopened salaries to her parents. She never went to college because the high school diploma was already more than Mike and Mommy expected of her.
After graduating from school, his father, Ted, did not receive any money from his parents and thanked his girlfriend, fiancé, and wife Lucy for their love and financial support, eventually arriving at Temple Law Review. And the rest is history.
I write these things and point out that getting a college degree is just a measure of someone’s value if they do it themselves, without standing on the shoulders of their loved ones. My dad would first tell you that my mother could only do what he did. My mother would have said first that she could only wear her hat and gown because Mommy rubbed the knuckle until it bleeds and washed the clothes of others. She was able to do that because Mike lived in the sultry trash of a stranger.
The judge’s pride in her achievements as “the first college graduate of the family” is, as long as it is mentioned in a spirit of humility and generosity, and in an attempt to separate herself from her origins. Nothing is wrong, not as an attempt to do. As someone who has the ability to spend 20 years of life in the classroom on the dime of others, I am not in a position to underestimate the importance of college education. It’s the best gift my parents gave me after life.
But I never say I was the “first” to do something in my family (especially because I’m actually the “second”). When I got my degree from Bryn Mawr, my dad wasn’t alive anymore, but Mommy was alive. When I got my diploma, I first met Jean Nate and the first person to wrap his arms tightly in a powdery hug. And at the party that followed, Mike was the first to come up with a plate of half-eaten food and an empty bottle of soda. He would have wiped out the turmoil and wouldn’t dance in the aisle.
There is a reason I can write and reach strangers with these thoughts, and they have nothing to do with my college education. My life is possible because other people have done hard work, dirty work, or work not mentioned in the campaign ads.
So the next time I hear someone say, “I went to college first in my family,” I wait for her to thank her for the glory of her family’s life. I thank myself when I go to bed tonight.
Christine Flowers is a lawyer and columnist at Delaware County Daily Times in Philadelphia and can contact email@example.com.
Christine Flowers: We stand on the shoulders of others
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