Have you ever agreed to do something and later wondered what you were thinking? I’ve got that dilemma starting tomorrow. At the end of the school year I said goodbye to my tutees and began to dream of long days with no obligations. Surprisingly an email appeared in my inbox asking me to be part of the summer school program. I quickly pointed out that I had already made plans for a camping trip during the second week of the session believing that I would be off of the hook but soon a reply came. The sender announced that it would be just fine if I had to be gone for a time. Before I even took the time to reflect on the pros and cons I had agreed to take part in the session. Now that I am one day away I find myself wondering why I assented to doing such a thing.
I have to admit that I have enjoyed retirement immensely, not that I have exactly been lazy. I still arise early on most days and I have a regimen that I follow that during the school year includes four hours helping high school students to master their mathematics. Nonetheless I have a somewhat bipolar personality in that I am both a creature of habit and a gypsy at heart. I like to be able to enrich my routine with unplanned excursions. If I want to spend the afternoon in Galveston it’s grand when I have no other obligations. I love dogs but don’t own one because I don’t want to have to worry about getting back home to care for it. With the tutoring I have been able to enjoy four out of the seven days of the week without worrying about letting someone down. It is a freedom that is indescribably wonderful and that I have certainly earned.
Up until I retired I awakened before it was light outside and on many mornings drove down the Beltway in the dark. I rarely left the school before six or seven o’clock in the evening and at home I always had cooking and laundry to do along with work that I had brought home to complete. By the end of my career I only had a month of vacation during which I often did planning for the coming school year. I was exhausted after so many years of late nights, early mornings, and continual stress from outside forces demanding better test scores, more college acceptances, fewer behavioral problems, and more creative teaching. I had loved my work but my responsibilities to my mother had grown exponentially and it was time to hang up my spurs.
During the last four years it has been quite nice to be the master of my daily fate and suddenly I’m a bit worried about having to be somewhere at a certain time for an extended period of time. I might have backed out but for the fact that I am always a woman of my word. Once I agree to do something there is no turning back for me. A perfect example is the time that I had agreed to leave Pasadena ISD to work for a former principal in Houston ISD. He was struggling a bit at his school and had been asking me to come to work for him for some time. When I finally agreed to make the move he made me promise that I would not back out. I gave him my word.
About a week later a letter from Pasadena ISD came in the mail announcing that I had been selected for a special program in which I would be paid to attend graduate school full time to earn the credentials to be an administrator. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and I knew that once I had completed the degree I would be in line for promotions but I had made a promise and I wasn’t going to disappoint my former principal at the eleventh hour. I turned down the offer, went to the new school, and paid my own way through graduate school.
I’m particularly disturbed by the current conversations about allowing students to default on their loans. To put it succinctly it is an appalling idea in my mind. Taking out a loan is a legal contract in which the individual agrees to pay back the amount granted at some future time. I can’t even conceive of someone who would think that it is appropriate to default. I have heard all of the rumblings and excuses but as far as I am concerned none of them are adequate. I understand that the cost of college tuition has risen faster than the cost of living but Mike and I paid for his degree and two degrees for me. We also financed the education of our two daughters. I know full well how tough it was to make those payments month after excruciating month for years but it was an obligation that we felt compelled to fulfill.
Life is about choices. We’d all love to attend one of the Ivy League universities and I had the grades and test scores to do so but I also understood that the cost of doing so was far beyond my means. I also considered the practicality of deciding on a major when I was signing up for classes. I wanted to actually be able to get a job when I was finished. Unfortunately Mike majored in Sociology and soon learned that there were few options available for him unless he earned a PhD. When he was offered a job at a local bank one summer he found that he enjoyed the work and especially the steady income and decided to abandon his original idea of becoming a college professor. I suspect that it was more a sense of responsibility that compelled him to change careers than a true love of the world of finance.
I’m not suggesting that young people engage in a field of study that they do not enjoy or settle for a lesser university if they have the opportunity to attend a better one, but I believe that everyone making such decisions needs to consider the ultimate consequences. It is terribly wrong to borrow thousands of dollars to fulfill a dream and then default simply because it becomes financially difficult. It is selfish at best and a form of thievery at worst. When enough individuals decide not to pay back their loans, it becomes difficult for the rest of those seeking an education to secure the funding that they need. It also impacts the taxpayers because it is our dime that rescues the banks holding the bad credit.
I have seen so many young men and women begin their studies at community colleges rather than four year universities in order to save money. They are not less bright than their peers who are at more expensive halls of higher learning. They are simply being practical out of necessity. They earn credit for the basics, work part time, and then transfer to the schools that cost more. When they have graduated they don’t owe anyone a dime. They should be applauded but we often look upon them with a bit of distain because they don’t have degrees from big name universities and they take longer to get their credentials.
The truth is that they often become highly successful because they have learned how to be flexible, work hard, be determined, and stay within a budget. Most of all they do not get into the position of defaulting on their promises.
I certainly hope that our leaders do not suggest that we pass far reaching loan forgiveness legislation. Our young people need to be responsible for the decisions that they have made. It builds character to work long and hard to pay back a debt. Each of us should always be true to our word. Which means that I will be setting my alarm again for the next many weeks and fulfilling an obligation that I agreed to do. Maybe next time I’ll think before I am so eager.