On May 9, 1998, I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. This was not a fluke, it was an intentional goal set by my parents the day I was born. Neither my mom nor my dad had the opportunity to pursue a degree.
My mom is a self-taught computer programmer who became independent at the age of 16 and worked full-time while finishing high school. My dad is the son of a farmer from Iowa who was captured while building runways in Japan during WWII. He was held as a prisoner of war for close to six years. Because my grandfather’s health was not the best after the war, my dad also worked through high school to support his family and when he graduated, college was not an option.
Throughout their careers, my parents inspired me with their work ethic, positive attitude and compassion for others. Dad worked nights so he could be there for us when we got home from school and for a while he worked selling real estate on the weekends. My mom was constantly learning new skills and programming languages to stay relevant in a male dominated industry that was changing by the minute.
It wasn’t until I was older that I realized my mom worked with really smart people who had master’s degrees in computer science from MIT. I also realized that my dad had built a business importing and exporting goods to China based on common sense people skills he learned from decades of customer service work.
The reason I didn’t recognize how hard my parents worked was because they never talked about their jobs; they were too busy giving my sister and me every opportunity to grow and succeed in and out of the classroom. While my parents did not have very much money in the early years, they always put money aside for college. They were going to ensure that our dreams would not just be fantasies but attainable realities.
When researchers at Washington University in St. Louis recently announced that students with a college savings account in their name are seven times more likely to pursue a post-secondary education, I was not surprised. Growing up knowing that hard-earned money had been set aside for me to go to school was a huge motivator for keeping good grades and pushing me with challenging pre-requisite college courses. I knew a lot of people in my family had worked and sacrificed for generations to give me that opportunity to further my education and I was not going to let them down.
As we approach Thanksgiving, I am so grateful to my parents for their love, mentorship and belief in the transforming power of a college education. If you have the opportunity this holiday season to thank a teacher, coach or parent for their investment in you, do it and be sure to let them know how they’ve made a difference.
Written by Ryan Betz