Guest Column

Going Places

I'm a first generation college graduate. From the time I was accepted to UNH at the age of 22 until I earned my degree in 1995, 20 years passed. Twenty years.

In 1994, when my twin daughters were 10, I decided to go to school full time and finish my last two semesters. When fall came, and I was working and studying and taking classes, I brought them to Durham to show them where I was spending so much of my time.

We had a soccer ball and kicked it around in front of T-Hall. It was a warm October day. Lying in the grass with dried leaves swirling around us, I talked to them about the importance of education. Like I had a dozen times before. Like I had since they were born and the headline in the Boston Globe that August morning said in 18 years, a four-year college education would cost more than $100,000.

For me, that'd be times two, my brother pointed out right there in the hospital.

But I didn't care. My girls were going to college. No matter what it took. No matter what.

And they did. Now they are graduating in May with exactly what I wanted them to have—choices, options, and the knowledge that the whole wide world is fat with possibilities.

They learned that knowledge at UNH, taking classes on race, culture and power, Italian cinema, Islam, Aristotle and Tolstoy. Caitlin learned it junior year during a semester in Cape Town, South Africa, where she studied charismatic Christianity and Xhosa, a language that combines words and clicking sounds. She spent three and a half months living with four different families. She stayed in the wealthy wine country and a poverty-stricken village where she slept on the ground and ate a sheep's head cooked in her honor.

Erin mastered sign language and spent last fall studying European history in Galway, Ireland. In one semester, she traveled the entire country, twice going to Belfast, where she gained sharp insight into the conflict that has divided Catholics and Protestants for generations. On her own, she ventured to Rome and Florence, visiting the Vatican and the Colosseum and the Pantheon, witnessing the history of the ages.

My daughters learned how big the world is right here in the United States, too, in St. Louis and Dallas and on a Cherokee reservation when they spent three spring breaks doing community service with the UNH student organization Alternative Break Challenge. As a co-director of ABC one year, Erin learned how to write grants for nonprofit agencies and coordinate the needs of an army of volunteers.

During their freshman year, with strangers as roommates, my girls learned the art of compromise and negotiation, of tolerance and flexibility. They faced those life challenges as Freshman Camp counselors, shepherding in new students as similar and opposite as people can be, and introducing them to college life. They've traveled on buses and trains and airplanes without me. They've crossed oceans and continents. They've seen poverty. Wealth. Children in need. They can talk politics and religion and social justice with the purity and eagerness that learning awakens.

When they began their college career four years ago, everyone kept talking to me about the empty-nest syndrome. So I thought it was going to be hard to have them gone. That I would miss them painfully. Not just when they were away but when they came home and weren't my little girls anymore.

But I was wrong.

Watching them grow and stretch and learn during these last four years—in ways and through experiences I could never have imagined, experiences this late-blooming college grad could never, ever have had—has been as delightful as watching them take their first steps. As exciting as hearing first words, seeing first expressions, all those other firsts.

Both of them want to continue their schooling. Cait wants to go back to South Africa; Erin, to Ireland. And that makes me rejoice. If they go, I will miss them terribly. But the excitement I feel about what comes next will help fill the holes. Because, right now, they are standing right on edge of the world, the whole wide world. This time, they are armed with possibilities.

So I say go. Go fly.

Jody Record '95 is a freelance writer in Portsmouth, N.H. She earned a B.A. degree in English and journalism from UNH.

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