Thursday, December 21, 2006

Article: The graduate

December 23rd marks a big day in my daughter Coral’s life. It’s her twenty-sixth birthday but that’s not it. It is the day she officially graduates from UT Austin with an M.A. in Linguistics. She’s not going to her graduation ceremony but she has already started celebrating.

Since she officially finished all school related activities on Monday, Coral has made two broad pronouncements. The first is that I should allow her to wear her lip ring in my presence. I will never be happy about that lip ring so I don’t see how that’s going to happen. The second is that she will resent me forever for making her complete her degree. She says the only thing the degree is good for is to allow her to write M.A. after her name. Like all mothers where education is concerned, I know she will thank me in the end.

Coral has had an interesting academic career. She started kindergarten a year early due to the timing of her birthday and our financial situation, I couldn’t afford another year of daycare. She attended kindergarten at a private school where age wasn’t the only criterion for entry and started public school with the first grade. I remember it like it was yesterday.

In the weeks leading to the big day, I explained to Coral about what the first grade would be like. I bought her new clothes and school supplies. We visited the campus with her brother serving as tour guide since he had just finished the first grade and knew all about it. “Don’t worry” I told her, “I’ll drive you the first day and help you find your class.” She humored me for a while but eventually dealt the death-blow of five-year-old independence: “I’d rather take the bus.”

I looked into her steely blue eyes and saw no fear, no uncertainty and no dependence. On her first day of public school, Coral boarded the school bus with other kids from her daycare and went off without a backward glance.

Although the youngest child in her class, she was usually the tallest during those yearly years. School was easy for her. She did well and had lots of friends. The first hint of trouble came between the second and third grades. At that point she announced that she’d decided to take a year off. Since she was a year ahead in school, this would not be a problem according to her reasoning. It was a blow when I explained things didn’t work that way.

After Coral graduated from high school, she wasn’t particularly interested in college. She went to live with her dad, working a little and partying a lot. Then at nineteen she went to Venezuela to do a Spanish emersion program. She came back with a goal. She began attending junior college and got straight A’s. After that she attended UCLA where she received a B.A. with a major in Linguistics and Spanish, graduating with honors.

When Coral started the Ph.D. program in linguistics at UT Austin, I was the happiest mom in the world. She got an apartment near campus and continued to get straight A’s. But gradually her attitude changed. Her enthusiasm for linguistics began to cool. She no longer believed linguists applied scientific methods or critical thinking to their field.

She dropped her plan for a Ph.D. and decided to go for an M.A. Without the love for the field she had felt earlier, even that came into question. The last couple of quarters were particularly hard, not due to the material or the work but for lack of motivation. That’s where I came in. Mothers are made of motivation for their children and I’d been coasting while Coral supplied her own.

Finally it's over. Time to party. Time to reflect. Time to lament the worthlessness of the degree. I don't agree, over the course of her carerr, I'm sure her M.A. will bring opportunities and better pay. In fact, it will s tart paying off soon as she collects her graduation gifts. She's not going to be resenting me then. I'm hoping she'll thank me, if not for the degree then at least for the gift.

Photo: Five-year-old Coral graduating from kindergarten.

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