A Woman's View: The gift of an educated mother

Published: Monday, Dec. 12 2011 4:00 a.m. MST

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One of the gifts I give my children is the gift of an educated mother.

It is a gift, in the interest of full disclosure, from their grandmother. Had it not been for the gentle — and sometimes more than gentle — nudging of my own mother, I would likely still be waitressing at Kemler’s Truck Stop, or some similar establishment, topping off coffee with one hand and carrying four plates of open-faced roast beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy on the other arm. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

I would not have filled out the application for college, let alone had the courage to travel across the country to attend once accepted, had it not been for the nagging (translation: loving reminders) of my mother.

And now I know why.

I thought for many years that my college education was a gift for me alone, for my own benefit, for my job prospects. While it certainly contributes to those things, that is not its greatest value in my life. Its greatest worth is the many ways, both obvious and less so, that it blesses the lives of my children.

Which is part of the reason why I have become an advocate for young women both going to college and, once there, finishing. I was so disheartened to learn this year that Utah has the lowest college completion rate for women of any state in the country. Why? How could this be in a state where we value our children so highly?

"One reason is financial," Utah PTA president Gainell Rogers explained on “A Woman’s View.” “Another reason is, women get married younger and they choose to support their husbands, and then they believe their husbands will take care of them. But that doesn’t always happen.”

I guess I knew this. I’ve seen it happen often enough. The young woman drops out of school after her freshman or sophomore year to work so that her husband can finish his education. I admire the sacrifice, but it may be misplaced, at least if it comes without reciprocity. The children born to that couple need both parents to be educated, not just their father.

“There are so many reasons that women should finish college,” Salt Lake City’s former mayor Deedee Corradini offered. “Whether women want to stay home or not, a lot of women will have to work to support the family. And another thing: If your husband is educated and you’re not, what are you going to talk about? Plus, you have to think about divorce rates.”

I wish we didn’t, but we do. The evidence is just too strong. I want my daughter to finish college for all the same reasons I want my sons to finish. I want their lives to be rich and full. I want all the doors to open for them. I pray desperately that their marriages work out, but if for some reason they don’t, they will have the blessing of a college education to benefit their career choices and abilities to support their own children.

“There is a self-confidence that comes when you have a certification or a degree,” Gainell said to nods all around. Yes.

I don’t think people go to college to gain self-confidence, but if they leave with a degree, they are very likely to have it. They accomplished something difficult. They began, stuck with it and finished something challenging. They climbed an academic mountain, got the cap and gown to show for it, and have received their baccalaureate.

I paid my daughter’s college tuition this week. It always takes my breath away, especially in December when I’m trying to buy Christmas presents. But before that sounds like whining, let me tell you how grateful I am that I can do it. And do you know why I can do it? Because I finished college. Had I not done so, I would never have gotten the job at KSL 20 years ago, a job I thoroughly cherish to this day. And had that not happened, I likely would not have had the chance to write books and columns and travel the country giving speeches. Everything sprung from that one decision.

To go to college and, once there, to finish.

A decision I owe to my mother.

There were 14 children in my mother’s family, six of them girls. She was the first girl to go to college, Florida State University.

I can still picture her in her Florida State tennis dress, racket held in a back swing. She did not have the benefit of her own mother’s encouragement to get her to that moment. My mother was ignored by her parents for the whole of her childhood, sent first to one relative’s and then another’s, each with the promise that she would be of some service when she got there. But she always knew that the only chance she had to escape her condition was education.

My mother was a beautiful woman, beautiful like a Hollywood film star in the '50s. But her beauty was not her greatest legacy to me. It was her education.

My mother gave me the gift of an educated woman — a gift I now give to my children.

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