Take a Break from “Real” Life, Go to College

Woman w backpack
What’s better than Gold?
word "senior"
Photo by Jen Thelodore

“Better than Golden.”  That’s my official designation in the eyes of the St. Mary’s College alumnae office. My fifty-year reunion has come and gone. With all the other members of the noble class of 1964, my alma mater now declares that I am welcome to celebrate every year – not just every five years!

The intriguing twist for me is that I officially belong to the class of 1964, the year, which would mark the end of four years of college study.  The class designation remained unchanged even though I received my B.A. in 1967.

I strongly suspect that this tradition stems from the fact that many young women left college before graduating. As an all-women college, St. Mary’s could not afford to lose the support of its alumnae simply because they didn’t graduate.  Thus, every “Belle,” the nickname for a St. Mary’s girl, remained forever a member of her traditional graduating class no matter when, or even if, she achieved that honor.

Dormitory Bubble
dorm room
Photo by Marcus Loke

Going to college was a bifurcated experience for me. The September following my high school graduation, I moved into a dormitory and began not just another level of academic study, but an interim level of independent living.  No longer under my parents’ thumb, I was nonetheless bound by the strict rules that governed dorm life at a Catholic Women’s college. Rules, which had held sway for decades but would seem laughable to students in ten years, bound every aspect of our life.

Bible w daisies
Photo by Anuja Mary

We signed in and out of our dorms when we left campus. Our lights had to be turned off by ten-thirty every evening. We ate all three meals formal style in the dining hall with each table headed by a nun of the Holy Cross order, which ran the school. Almost our entire course schedule was predetermined. Theology and Philosophy were a part of every student’s curriculum whether they major in Chemistry or Education. Course work was rigorous and difficult.

Where the Boys Are
ND library
Photo by Cong Wong

This rather bleak picture isn’t, of course, the whole story.  We were, after all, twentieth-century American girls, and across the highway was Notre Dame – 6,000 college guys, mixers, football, and parties. We decisively manipulated the rules and carved out enough freedom to take full advantage of this extraordinary opportunity.  Indeed, one of the major reasons so many St. Mary’s women didn’t finish college was they left school to marry a Notre Dame guy when he graduated.

I was among those that left before completing my degree work. Because I had worked thirty hours a week on campus, I wasn’t allowed to carry a full load of courses and couldn’t graduate in 1964.  Nonetheless, I followed Jay to Chicago certain I could earn the remaining credits at Chicago area schools and have them transferred back to St. Mary’s.

So-Called Real Life

In one way, I was right. It could be done.  But it wasn’t easy.  I entered a wholly different mode of “going to college” when I became a “day” rather than a “dorm” student. Every year, thousands of students manage to get to classes, do research, study for exams and gain college credits that lead to degrees while at the same time “carrying on with life.” But, as a scholar who lived four years in a dorm and multiple years as a student outside that protective bubble, I’m willing to put my money on dorm life anytime.

College lecture room
Photo by Mikael Kristenson

One of the first disadvantages I discovered when I switched to being a day student at Roosevelt University was the disappearance of the easy comradery of dorm life. Sleeping, showering, dressing, eating and recreating in the same place with the students who were my classmates solidified our bonds quickly.  This meant friends to share your studies with at times that were convenient to arrange and with people you trusted and whose trust you had earned.

As a day student, I seldom ran into the same student more than once.  We moved quickly from class to class.  They, like me, had other obligations that pulled them off campus after classes were over.  That other world that we all were hurrying off to was our “real” world.

Man running
Photo by Andy Beales

When I lived at St. Mary’s, the college was my real life. It was everything and nothing was more important.  Now that I’d left that behind, going to school was only a part of life, one of the many things taking up space in my daily/weekly schedule.  Much more exciting was planning my wedding in the first year and the joy of being married after that.  Much more involving was my work.  As a caseworker for Cook County Department of Child and Family Services, I spent my weekdays trying to help families survive financial and emotional crises.  The urgency of these not only drained my energies, they made my school work seem inconsequential.

Finally, I truly missed the easy access to faculty. It takes times to build a working partnership with a professor who can mentor you through the difficult projects required to earn your degree. It had definitely been easier to get to know my teachers when so many of them shared three meals a day with the students.  That particular perk was unique to a place and time and isn’t necessarily endemic to dorm life.  What is common, however, is that students who have the opportunity to live in the dorms generally are full-time students.  This gives them more chances to seek out advisors and build the relationships that are a cornerstone of successful academic careers.

Since this take on dorm versus day student life comes from my own memories and experiences, I’d very much like to hear from readers what they think.  What are some of the awful things about dorm life?  What are some the advantages of being a day student?

Let me know.

“Wisdom is nothing more than confirmed imagination: just because one did not study for his exam does not mean that he should leave it blank.”
― Criss Jami, Killosophy



September – The Great Birthday Month

September Babies
Babies in a heart
Photo by Travis Grossen

All sorts of scientific and not-so-scientific studies point out that September is “baby” month in the United States of America. According to the statistics-loving journalist, Matt Stiles, nine out of ten of the most popular birthdates are in September.

Double Digit Magic
Concrete steps marked 7
Photo by Gayatri Malhotra

And mine is one of those. Today I “celebrate” my 77th birthday.  In other words, I have completed seventy-seven years (outside my mother’s womb) on planet Earth. I really like the look and sound of 77. Culturally speaking, 7 is considered by many to be a lucky number.  That makes double 7s twice as lucky.  Thus, I find myself pondering what good fortune might be coming my way this year.

For the coming year, I’ve chosen Love Lessons Learned: The First Five Years as the theme for my blog posts. Within that focus double sevens resonate with double twos. When I turned twenty-two in 1964, a melancholy swept over me, a feeling totally discordant with my perceived life situation.

Why So Melancholy?

A beautiful pear-shaped diamond sparkled on my left ring finger.  Jay and I daily explored potential sites for a wedding reception. I found the perfect bridal gown on sale for $50 in Michigan Avenue’s Blum Vogue. Elegant invitations flew to the four corners of the country asking family and friends to join our celebration.

Couple holding hands
Photo by Tyler Nix

About to take off on love’s great adventure, my 22nd birthday should have found me bursting with joy. Instead, I couldn’t shake the feeling that all the important milestones of my life were over. That is how seriously we take birthdays in our culture.  A day that shows up once a year every year, looking for the most part like any other day,  becomes for us as important as a holiday. And up until that year, I could always look forward to certain birthdays that would mark a significant turning point in my life.

It started when I counted down the days to my fifth birthday, the day I ould go to Kindergarten. Sure, my mom had to walk me there, but just the same, I was going to school with the “big” kids.  I might have been among the youngest of that cohort, but I was decisively not a “baby” anymore!

demitasse cups
Photo by Emma Smith

Five years later came the big One-Zero.  It was so exciting to be a double-digit kid.  That novelty would definitely wear off, but right then it was a big deal.  Because it was such a very special birthday, my grandmother and my mother gave a tea party for ten of my friends, a highly unusual event in our working-class Detroit neighborhood.  Mom set up the living room with card tables and fancy linens.  Grandma Luger, who worked in a gift shop, brought home ten demi-tasse cups in a variety of pastels to grace the tables. Mom bought delicately decorated little cakes from Kaufman’s, the German bakery on Wyoming Avenue.  At the end of this enchanting afternoon, each young guest went home with a teacup of her own.

Sixteen! Who doesn’t yearn for 16? I could hardly wait.  By that time, we were living in suburban Indiana. Getting a license to drive our family car overpowered every other wish in my life.  I don’t remember the party at all.  I just recall the sheer joy of getting behind the enormous wheel of our 1948 tank of a Chevrolet, sliding forward to control the pedals and backing out of our driveway and taking off, ostensibly into the neighborhood, but in reality into the world on my own.

Just before the melancholy twenty-second had been the glorious twenty-first when I gained the twin responsibilities of voting and legal drinking.

John Kennedy
Photo by History in HD

John Kenneday had run for president the year I turned eighteen. It frustrated me that I couldn’t vote for him. Now on September 8, 1963, I resolved to cast my vote for him for his next term, never having the slightest premonition that we would soon lose our dynamic young leader.

A year later turning 22 felt like a non-event.  Although I would be married that year, being twenty-two years old was not a factor in that choice.  I could have married the year before or not for another five years if a life partner had come into my life at a different time.  In a year I’d be 23 and my life would be pretty much unchanged –no new “firsts.”

To my twenty-something brain, life had hit a plateau, one long cycle of “being grown-up.” It sounded like a broken gong, ringing with a dull thud.

At seventy-seven I can look back and laugh at that girl, but I do still understand her.  She couldn’t know what I know – how many adventures lay ahead and how they had nothing to do with birthdays.  But, that was okay. I’m glad I didn’t know the future then. It would be filled with challenges I might have felt inadequate to handle. Fear and anxiety could wait as could joy and triumph. Just as I acknowledge it was a gift that the twenty-two-year-old Jule couldn’t foresee the future,  I sense that truth remains in place.  I’ll know more later.  And that’s as it should be. Lottery balls spinning

Photo by Dylan NolteI’m content to wait and see what fortune has in store for me this lucky 77th year.

The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.       Madeleine L’Engle

Labor of Love – Seeking Work We Want









Celebrate Work

As a nation, the United States of America this weekend celebrates “Labor.”  Ironically, we celebrate work, but taking a day to do just the opposite – relax, take time away from whatever ‘labor’ claims so many of our waking hours.

Man and baby on a dock
Photo by Caleb Jones

While there may be some of you out there who jumped on a career track early in your adult life and ran that engine until it was time to take it back to the roundhouse, I suspect that’s not the usual story.  It certainly wasn’t for me.

In this blog dedicated to exploring Love’s Lessons, pondering “work” brings back vivid memories of facing the tough reality that if Jay and I were committed to our dream of living together, such an arrangement meant the end of parental support.

To say that one cannot live on love alone is a cliché for a reason – it’s a bald truth.  When I left St. Mary’s College to move to Chicago so that I could be married, I left behind food and shelter not just course work and studies. Maybe most importantly, I walked away from my job working in the college dining hall.

Seeking Work

Looking for labor was the stand-out theme of Summer, 1964, for me. Ironically, my four-year stint in the college dining room didn’t at all prepare me to be an actual restaurant waitress nor did I have any ambition to throw myself into a field of endeavor that would certainly prove simply a stop-gap step.

Inside of diner in black and white
Photo by Elizabeth Lies

As far back as I could remember, my life ambition had been to be a journalist. Advancing toward this goal, however, had resembled waves upon the shore, surging and receding. At age thirteen, I submitted a story to Catholic Girl magazine, which was accepted for publication. Early in my freshman year of high school, I interviewed a local journalist, who then became a supportive mentor for the rest of my high school year.  Those years saw me spending hours working for the Munsonian, our high school newspaper.  In my senior year, I served as editor of the Magician, our yearbook.  The 1960 Magician won an All-American Award, one of only four yearbooks to do so that year.

I felt like I was on my way. But then the roadblocks started appearing.  My family finances precluded my attending college except on full scholarship. None of the universities with prestige journalism programs were willing to offer me such an award.  I did receive such a promise from St. Mary’s College at Notre Dame, Indiana.  That determined my college choice.

And here’s where the frying pan hits the fire.  SMC had no journalism program.  In fact, their self-described mission declared that they were not a “career” college.  Rather the school prided itself in educating young women in the liberal arts and sciences. The subtext here reads, “We are preparing young women to be wives for education, professional men.”

It would be three more years before Betty Frieden sparked the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century, but many young women were already banging their heads against glass ceilings without knowing why they felt so battered. I bent under its restrictions and majored in English Writing.

Girl alone in woods
Photo by Andrew Neel

Flash forward to that summer of 1964 – even though I lacked a formal journalism education, I decided to go for a spot in my dream world.  Advertised job openings remained elusive, and I knew no one in Chicago in the industry. I tried sales and gave it up within two weeks – having not earned a single commission. I did a stint of doing telephone surveys and kind of liked it, but it was hourly wage and dead end.  I kept watching the want ads.

Then, miraculously The Wall Street Journal ran an ad for a Chicago area reporter in mid-July.  I applied and they called me in for an interview. Over the moon with excitement, I carefully dressed as professionally as possible, given my wardrobe still remained a collage of leftovers from college.  The interviewer, a young man with a nice smile, asked about my ambitions and seemed impressed by my enthusiasm and experience.  They had liked my writing sample.

Interviewer at desk
Photo by David Veksler

Then the bottom dropped out. “We’d like to offer you the position,” he said, “But I’m wondering what your living situation is.”

At twenty-two, I had never applied for a professional position before and St. Mary’s had no career counseling center. Naively, I explained I had moved to Chicago to be with my finance.  We would be married soon, and I would be supporting us while he continued with law school.

The interviewers smile disappeared. “I’m afraid, then,” he said, “we cannot offer you this job after all.”

My insides had turned to Jell-O, but I managed, “Why. I don’t understand.”

“Well, we don’t pay women enough to support themselves. As a new female reporter your starting salary would be $350 a month.  You couldn’t possibly support two people on that wage.”

I really wanted to argue, but nothing in my experience had given me the vocabulary to refute his argument.  And the finality of his tone let me know that the interview was over.

He stood, reached out his hand, and said, “It’s been very nice meeting you.”

I don’t remember what I said, but I certainly hope I wasn’t polite.

“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it” 
― Buddha