Everything I am I owe to my mother, including the fact that I am a law school graduate. This may seem like a cliché thing to say, and perhaps a little odd since both of my parents passed away years ago. The notion is very clear to me however, and for this reason I ensured that for convocation ceremonies Dean Dickey listed my middle name, Ann, the name by which my mother was known.
My mother was a remarkable woman. She was born in the Netherlands and was raised in the port city of Rotterdam. It was apparent from a very young age she was academically gifted. Unfortunately, her studies were interrupted in 1940 at the age of 15 when Rotterdam was blitzed by the German Air Force at the commencement of WWII. Although she was eventually able to return to school under the Nazi occupation, she sadly watched as her class size reduce as each Jewish student fled the country, went into hiding or was sent to a concentration camp.
After four years of food rationing and depravation, the Dutch people were finally liberated by Allied forces, and my mother and her parents were thrilled to eventually leave war-torn Europe and immigrate to the U.S. With this move, however, her family left livelihoods behind and had to start over in this country with just a few trunks of their belongings. The sacrifices she made to immigrate here to the U.S. prevented her from finishing her higher education, and subsequently, employment then marriage and six children consumed her world.
For the three decades she raised her family, my mother never stopped learning. Though her responsibilities gave her little leisure time, one thing was certain, my mother would read the newspaper daily. During my adolescence, her hyper focus on her paper was somewhat of an irritation to me, especially when I thought I needed her attention that instant. On the other hand, her broad knowledge of current events made her a great resource and mentor. I used to brag to my friends that my mom knew everything. I would say, “I could ask my mom a question right now about music, and it could be about Mozart or Mick Jagger, and she would know the answer.”
I was the youngest in the family, and when I turned 12, my mother got her chance to finish her education. She was accepted to the University of Utah where she planned to study history. When asked about her choice, she would say, tongue-in-cheek, “I thought history would be a practical subject since I have lived through most of it.” My mother excelled in school, taking just a few classes every semester in order to spend the bulk of her time meeting the needs of her last two children still living at home. It took my mom 10 years to graduate with her B.A. degree, however, it came as no surprise to her family that she graduated magna cum laude with an invitation from the university president to submit a written speech to him as a candidate for class valedictorian.1 comment on this story
Although my mother was by far a more gifted student than I, her example gave me the courage to start law school in mid-life, and I often felt her influence as I a struggled in school with serious illness, discouragement and pure exhaustion. My mother and I are very different souls. When comparing our personalities, we likely had two things in common, an appreciation for art and for flower gardens. Now I can add a third, a love of education.
After I graduate I will treat myself to a clam chowder at Market Street Grill, one of my mother’s favorite dishes. So, here’s to my mom, Johanna Adriana (Ann) Sehlemeier Copier. It is because of her I made it through the rigors of law school.