I have written in this column before about the concept of "opportunity cost." This topic from economics says that every choice involves a cost, that when we choose to do one thing, we automatically choose not to do something else. When I think of the sacrifices my parents made so that my sister and I could obtain college educations, I realize that there were many opportunity costs to the decisions they made. They sent us to college, but never traveled the world like they would have liked. They lived honest lives and saved every extra penny they came across, never knowing what the cost of tuition would do next year. Now in their 70s, they are still working and saving, modeling for us a life of honesty and hard work. I doubt they ever thought of the lavish vacations they gave up so that their children could become the first generation in their Italian immigrant family to earn college degrees, or of the fancy clothes that they did not buy for the parties they did not go to, believing instead that one should put one’s children’s lives ahead of one’s own. Still, the decisions they made for us came with a cost, and it is because of those costs that I did not think twice about skipping my college reunion this weekend because my daughter’s school is not out for the summer yet. To travel to Washington, D.C. at this time of the year would be a burden for her, and I just can’t do it right now.
When I think back on my college days, it seems that almost every aspect of my life today was shaped by those four short years. I met my husband because we shared a common interest in liturgical music, an interest I discovered in my college days. And when, as I describe in “Mama, Ph.D., I needed to find a new job, I was willing to move outside my field in order to continue teaching college, so I could imitate the amazing teachers I had in college.
In my calculus classes I often use the story of a ball that was thrown in an arc as we all watched collectively, either in person in New Orleans or in D.C. on TVs in the dorms. In the final game of the NCAA playoffs in 1982, the score went back and forth between Georgetown and North Carolina as it was passed between the two teams. Then the ball ended up in the hands of a freshman player from North Carolina. But this was not just any player from North Carolina- it was Michael Jordan, who built a career on doing what he did next. He threw the ball across the court, landing it in the basket with only seconds to go. And so, for the first (but not last) time in my college career, I found myself chanting “we’re number two.”
I remember my first day in a class called “Problem of God”, a required course in Theology for all freshmen. The teacher asked us all “who knows there is a God?” Straight out of Catholic High School, I knew the correct answer and raised my hand. He then went on to explain that we could believe that there is a God, but could not know for sure that there is a God. Instead, he essentially asked us to begin a journey towards a more adult faith, one that I assume will not end until the day I die.
I remember amazing teachers who became the model for what I do today. Some are still alive, but some are not. There were those, including Michael Foley, who died while I was still in school, and those, including Monika Hellwig and Dean Davis, who died many years later. I know that those three teachers believed in life after death, and I know that, even if there is no “Heaven” as we like to imagine it, that they live on in the lives of their students, and in the lives that their students touch. I just hope that I can do them justice.
My husband attended college as a commuter, and so does not have memories of roomates, of dorm dances, of 10:30 PM mass (did I really stay up that late?), or of “Marty’s on the Potomac” where one could always count on a nutrition-less burger, no matter what the cafeteria was serving that day. I recall that being a member of the Senior Class Committee was a social high point of my college career, and laugh that it was perhaps the last time I was so excited to be appointed to a committee. I am sure that my husband spent time having discussions about what I call “the meaning of life”, but I doubt they took place in dorm lounges into the wee hours of the morning. Alas, my husband has few of these memories, but he did put himself through college without loans and, I must admit, had a much higher GPA upon graduation than I did. Did I mention the concept of “opportunity cost?”
Someday, my daughter will need to decide where to go to college. I wonder if she will still want to go to Georgetown, as she said once when she was a toddler and my alumni magazine came to our house. I will never forget her next comment, as she looked up at me with a head full of blonde curls and asked “and you come too, mommy?” I wonder if she will say that when she is 18!
And so, dear class of 1985 from Georgetown University, have a wonderful reunion. I wish I could be there to celebrate all that the past 25 years have added to our lives. And I remember what a privilege it is to share a part of the lives of my students today. For, someday, they, too, will be attending (or not attending) their 25th class reunion.