On Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending graduation ceremonies at Trinity Washington University. Trinity College as it was known until 2004, was a Catholic women's college that for many years was known as a school for wealthy and powerful families who desired a small liberal arts education for its girls. Senator Nancy Pelosi, this year's graduation speaker, is an alumnus. When enrollment fell and after much dissent from former students who threatened to pull their financial support, it was remade into three separate schools - the College of Arts and Sciences which continues the traditional all female liberal arts curriculum; the College of Education which is co-ed and offers graduate degrees; and the School of Professional Studies offering women both undergraduate and graduate degrees serving working women in the Washington, DC area. Its academic standards remain high even as it reaches out to academically under-served areas of Washington.
A woman that I worked with, actually who was my secretary, was graduating. She completed college against enormous odds - drug abuse problems in her early adulthood, family issues that defy comprehension, a son and granddaughter with mental illness, lack of financial or family support. She had to do this alone and by any measure she was destined to fail. But she didn't.
She came to me a number of years ago and said that she wanted to do something more, she needed to be challenged to make the day go by faster. I told her to come to me with a plan of what she wanted to do, where she ultimately wanted to be in the organization and that I would look at it. She came back with a plan of classes and activities that would ultimately make her eligible as an economist. It was a real long shot. But we started with some in-house training and classes and she was dedicated and did well. Then she tried a college class and with some encouragement and tutoring finished with an A. Now she felt ready to tackle more and more. We could usually, not always, find a way that we could declare her classes to be work related - English, Economics, Math, Accounting - but she did have to pay for many of the core classes on her own which was a financial risk for her. And she just kept taking classes, sometimes two and three at a time while she worked full-time, dealt with myriad issues of her son and granddaughter, and took on new work responsibilities. And yesterday was the payoff!
It was a beautiful day on the lawn of the university and she had friends, but no family, there to cheer for her. Following the beautiful ceremony and lots and lots of pictures we went out as a group for lunch, the same as so many families on graduation day because we were her family when she thought she had none.