Mom, My English Degree, and Me

by swellsbennett

When I was fifteen, I decided that I was done with high school. I had good reasons to feel that way:

  • I was ridiculously tall for a girl.
  • I had a vindictive ex-boyfriend who mooed every time I walked by.
  • I was bored out of my mind in most of my classes.

If it hadn’t been for a sweet girl (whose name I can’t remember for life of me) handing me a brochure for Cottey College, I would have dropped out and gotten my GED. Instead, I made early admittance to that small women’s college in Missouri my goal. I spent my Junior year working my butt off to get letters of recommendation from my teachers and straight As in my classes. And, by some miracle, the stars aligned and my mom and dad allowed me to go.

Cottey, a two-year program at the time, had only 350 students. At just 16, I lived in a dorm with a hundred other young women and learned how to be relatively self-sufficient. I tried out for and earned parts in every play during my two years there. I discovered that I wasn’t really a “roommate” kind of a girl (I did try sharing apartments with others later on – mostly with disastrous results).

When I came back to Arizona, I decided to major in English at ASU. I spent two years mostly avoiding classes (though I somehow managed to earn all but twelve credits toward my Bachelors). Bored with English studies, I switched to Sociology. One year later, at the ripe old age of 21, I dropped out and found a “real job.”

I always intended to go back – someday. Nevertheless, as the next decade slipped past, I never seemed to find the time or have the inclination. My mother, in a misguided attempt to encourage me, would joke that she would extract a deathbed promise from me that I would finish college. Obstinate child that I am, I would simply ignore her pleas.

I know Mom spent most of the 1990s and the 2000s frustrated by my lack of ambition; she was certain that I was wasting my gift. Patience has never been her strongest virtue.

After I married Dan in 2005, the idea of actually finishing my English degree began to gain importance. Finally, in the summer of 2006, Dan and I decided that I should take the fall semester and finish college. I enrolled in the four classes I needed and proceeded to diligently work toward my goal, eventually earning three A-pluses and an A.

When it became clear that I was going to graduate, I asked my mom if it mattered to her whether I walked in the ceremony or not. I would have been just as happy not to, but she felt strongly that she needed to see me cross the stage and get my degree. I acquiesced.

The weekend before my graduation, Mom was painting one of the room in her house. She stepped backward to admire her work, caught her heel on an iron turtle doorstop, and landed hard on her side, breaking her hip. The day of my graduation, she was lying in a hospital bed. Somehow, it just didn’t seem fair.

However, those four classes gave me more confidence in my writing skills than I had ever had before. Even though I had worked as an editor in the years prior to finishing college, I hadn’t really considered myself a real “Editor.” Even though I had written stories, I hadn’t believed I was a writer. It’s amazing how much a single slip of paper can change your outlook. Mom was right – I needed to finish college.

Last Tuesday, my mom told me she was proud of me. She has been reading this blog and, of course, she has read my books. I just want to thank her for believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. She and I may not always see things exactly the same way, but she always saw my potential. And that’s what makes her a great mom.

An illustration of Cottey College in Nevada, M...

An illustration of Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri: Rosemary Hall and Main Hall. I actually performed in Rosemary Hall — it was torn down during my years there. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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