There is a data set that I use in my statistics class called the “General Social Survey”, or “GSS.” Collected by the government, it includes a list of interesting questions that statistics teachers like me enjoy playing with. One question in the list has always intrigued me. It reads something like “if you suddenly became rich, would you continue or stop working?” As a labor economist, I have been intrigued by the determinants of the responses to this question. The data show that how much one likes their job is positively correlated to the responses to this question, but I am sure that there are other determinants that come into play in determining the answers. I found myself thinking of this lately as the “Power Ball” lottery reached a record level of return of $600 million dollars. Believing that such lotteries are a “tax on people who don’t understand math,” I must admit that the payoff was so large I was almost tempted into buying one ticket, just in case. In the end, I chose not to, but not until I participated in several conversations about what I would do if I was to suddenly come into such large sums of money. My response remained consistent. I would stay here and continue teaching college. I hope that someday my daughter finds a job about which she can say the same thing.
While it is interesting to imagine being in a position of not having to worry about money, the truth is that I would not want to give up my job here, even if I was not financially dependent on it. This became all the more clear this past weekend as we watched graduation unfold. As I marched in two ceremonies, I realized that the energy I receive from my students is something that could not be bought for any price. Indeed, the opportunity to be part of the lives of such amazing students is something that could not be bought, even for $600 million.
As I watched my students graduate, I was reminded of how my life had intersected with theirs these past few years. I watched one woman graduate who had worked for me as a work-study student and had helped me organize my particularly chaotic office, helping me dig out of piles of papers that were gathering dust on top of my desk. She will be attending graduate school at a nearby university, where she will earn a Master’s Degree in Social Work. I am sure that she will help many people find order and meaning in lives that, like my office, need such direction.
I watched one student receive an award for having the highest GPA over the course of her time at Ursuline. Had I not run into her in the hall a few days earlier, I would not have recognized her. She looked completely different from the young woman who sat in my class a few years ago. From a country outside of the United States, I am sure that she is taking her knowledge and vision to a larger world. I am proud that I had the opportunity to teach her skills that I hope will be useful as she progresses on that journey.
I learned that weekend that another former student was a co-author on a paper that was submitted to a top science journal. It was the result of a research internship that my former calculus student participated in on the way to earning a degree in Biology. I can imagine the paper becoming a stepping stone on the way to entrance into medical school. I am sure that the student will make an excellent physician, and I wish them well.
As the evening unfolded, I listened to the roll call of graduates until I was startled into attention as I heard a familiar name called. One of our former math majors earned a master’s degree in teaching, which gives her teaching certification that allows her to teach math. As math teachers are hard to find in Cleveland, I am sure that this degree will help her to find a position that will allow her to better support herself and her children. I am glad that I played a role in helping her future unfold in such a positive way.
No, even if I was to purchase a winning ticket to the lottery, the truth is I would want to continue teaching here. There are just some experiences that no amount of money can buy. And so I conclude by asking my readers a question that will definitely not be included in any data set; if you were to suddenly become rich, would you continue working at your present job?
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