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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: A Broken Pickle Jar (Or How I Stumbled Into the Jesuits)

A life-changing choice.


July 28, 2016

In math, two numbers, such as ½ and 2, are called “reciprocals” if, when multiplied together, their product is one. I thought of this recently when discussing what my daughter’s college search will look like. She will most likely choose a college that is on a list of schools that provide “reciprocal” tuition to employees of Ursuline. I realize that this will be very different from the approach I inadvertently used in choosing a college when I was in high school.

My plans for applying to college took a detour I was told that I could not take a course in Advanced Chemistry as a Junior. Probably because of a brain tumor that would haunt me years later, I had been particularly “klutzy” in my Chemistry class, and the teacher feared that I might be dangerous around organic chemicals. Growing up in Connecticut, I had planned on applying to Yale University as a pre-med. With no Advanced Chemistry on my transcript, I realized that I needed to expand my search.

That summer, a new interest in politics took me to a week long program for high school students in Washington, D.C. We spent our days visiting different government agencies and meeting with elected officials. One day, there were no meetings scheduled, so we were encouraged to explore anything of interest.

 Although summers in D.C. are sweltering, I had packed for the trip as if I was going to be attending business meetings all week. Along with a blazer and stockings (in D.C. in July!), I had brought a briefcase, something only one other student had done. That day, with a group of other students, I attempted to enter one of the Smithsonian museums, only to be stopped by security at the front door. Even years before September 11th, briefcases were not permitted past the entrance. And so, letting the rest of the crowd know that we would be fine, I found myself alone in D.C. with that one other student who had brought a briefcase.

The other student wanted to use that time to visit a local college, one that I previously had no knowledge of or interest in, and so I followed her off to the Northwest corner of the city. Even before touring it, I experienced arriving on campus as one of “coming home,” as I immediately felt I belonged there. However, we had to wait for the tour, and so we stopped for lunch. It was there that I had my first taste of feeling awkward as a first generation college student when I brushed against a jar of pickles on our table, causing it to fall and break (obviously, that Chemistry teacher was right.) Once I got to tour the college, I felt that I could really learn and thrive there, and began to plan how I might make it my new home.

It was not just a college that I found that day. It was a whole way of looking at the world, and of being a thinking woman. That day, I discovered not only the college where I would earn my first degree, but also a group of priests who call themselves “Jesuits” who would become central to my education for many years. I was reminded of them when I listened to an invocation at one of the recent political conventions. Given by a Jesuit, it linked a tragedy involving gun violence to thoughts from a prophet and a to those from a famous Jesuit, in a way that is best described as purely “Jeusit.” I also heard a politician speak of Jesuits as creating “men for others.” In their now-coed institutes of higher education, that line has been amended to “men and women for others.”

This weekend, this order celebrates the feast day of their founder, and so I want to thank those amazing men for all of the richness they brought into my life, as an undergraduate and beyond. I know that I would be a very different person had I not stumbled into them that day in 1980.



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