Upon re-reading the “three graduates” post, I’ve decided that the tone is a little too preachy for me. The post has that know-it-all tone that’s just not indicative of how I am…or at least not of how I want to come across. At the same time, working in education over three decades (my, how time flies) has taught me tons of lessons, one of which is that unless you have some incredible talent, family money, or some other exceptional attribute (think Anna Nicole) that provides the lifestyle you aspire too, then education is (I’ll say it again) the ticket. Semester after semester, year after year, I hear life stories to confirm this, and this morning I want to share one.
It’s of a young woman who wrote a beautiful yet heart wrenching essay about the seemingly never ending series of dead-end jobs she had held. Her conclusion: “Education is the only answer that can prevent disrespect, encourage self value and allow our families to survive beyond paycheck to paycheck.” Before writing the conclusion, Rene told of a couple of job situations that tore at my heart, not only because I know this outstanding young woman and hate to know that she was mistreated but also because her essay awoke my consciousness to the fact that there are untold numbers of women who are experiencing exactly what she did.
Why don’t I just stop yakking and insert one of her stories? The only thing I’ve changed is the name of her employer.
“One of my first minimum wage jobs was at the age of 18, working as a third shift convenience store clerk. I had a son about a year and a half old. I worked from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. because I figured if I worked while he slept, I could spend more time with him during the day. One night my son got sick and I had to go to work. I called my manager, John, when I got there to tell him of the possibility of having to leave if my son got worse. Around 2 a.m. my son’s temperature spiked up to 102.5 and my mom couldn’t get it to go down. I called John and he refused to come to the store and allow me to leave. He said my first responsibility was to the store and if I left, he would fire me. I tried everything I could to make him understand that I had to take care of my son, but he believed that I had no choice if I wanted to keep my job. He believed my duty to the job and my need for it would outweigh the duty to my son; therefore, I would keep the store open.
That night I had to make a decision that could possibly cost me my job. After John hung up the phone on me, the decision seemed much clearer. I decided I could find another minimum wage job. I locked up the store and left a note on the door. I had only been in the emergency room about an hour when I was called to the pay phone. John asked if I was going back to open the store when I finished at the hospital. I think it was that very minute that I realized that this man had no respect for me as a parent or even as person. I hung up the phone and went back to my son. Later that afternoon, once I had gotten my son home and in bed, I took the keys back to the store and I told John I wouldn’t work for someone who thinks very little of me or my family.
Needless to say, I found another minimum wage job a couple of days later. I did something some people can’t do. I walked out and took a chance on finding another job. Some people would have stayed because they really didn’t feel like they had a choice.”
Rene wrote of a couple of other situations and of her feelings that eventually led her to pursue an education. This young woman is now a police officer who is pursuing a four-year degree “in her spare time” and who is one of the biggest advocates around for higher education. She talks daily to people, especially women, encouraging them to take the first step towards a better life for their families. Rene thus describes the plight of minimum wage mothers: “Our main concern is to survive another week. As we struggle to survive another week, it is a persistent fight against no respect, no self value and no education.”
I have other stories, but I’ll save them for another day. This morning I just wanted to get another pitch in for education. Whether it’s one course that will improve job skills, or a certificate, diploma, or degree, it’s the way to a life with more choices and more respect.