Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Marilee, we hardly knew ye.

A big news item this past week was the resignation of the Dean of Admissions at MIT, Marilee Jones. It seems Ms. Jones overstated her academic qualifications when she first accepted a job in 1979 and never bothered to correct this as the career carrot was repeatedly dangled and she was promoted to higher level positions of increasing responsibility, topping out as the Dean of Admissions. Not shabby at all. As if that weren't enough, she drew the neon arrow to herself by publishing a book on navigating the college admissions maze.

Forbes.com just had a little article on AOL about the percentage of resume padders and academic falsifiers - it's a pretty high number. Shame does strange things to people. I know, I have lived with it in my life.

Many of you know that I come from a large family - I was the seventh of ten children born to a charismatic dad who comes from a long line of alcoholism and a large family himself. He was forced out of school in or around 8th grade to help work and earn money for his family. He was one of the older boys and so the responsibility fell squarely upon their shoulders. Their father was out busy drinking apparently. My mother also from a large Irish family - did well by most standards and graduated high school and got an office job in New York City...until she got married I believe.

My father was not illiterate by any stretch of the imagination, he read and was often showing his prowess in those word games in the Readers Digest and the daily puzzles. But of course this does not an education make. He was however, pretty clever with the turn of phrase and would often win the slogan contests at work - a precursor to today's caption contests if you will.

Anyway, I digress. The topic is shame and growing up in a blue collar town whose entrance was dotted with oil tanks bordering the New Jersey Turnpike can make one acutely aware of that gnawing sense that you just don't measure up somehow. Of course being set adrift into the world without benefit of a formal education can present some interesting choices - earn a living or earn a living? I guess put that way, I'll earn a living. You see college was never even mentioned. There were certainly no institutions of higher learning in town and I didn't have any sort of mentor from my high school days. High School ended up being a turbulent time for me and try as I might, fond memories are few. Oddly I remember being in the top percentile when taking those standardized tests yet nobody bothered to figure out why I just wasn't applying myself in school. The reasons might have been too difficult to deal with I suppose.

But I survived and soldiered on and moved in with my older sister who had an apartment and set about the business of earning a living. Oy vay. I mean it was all legit, but nothing glamorous I can assure you. A job was arranged for me by my aunt in a certain hospital affiliated with The University of Pennsylvania. So close, but you see I was 19 or so and spent lunch hours "enjoying nature" with the doctors' kids, who were themselves working as they went to school. Everyone was so educated, I burrowed deeper into the shame that seemed my only birthright as I continued "to earn a living".

So fast forward to Ms. Jones' living a lie. Shame can be a debilitating thing to live with. I understand the misstep she made to secure a foot on the ladder upward. I do believe that she should have confronted this issue earlier and spoken to someone. But I also believe shame can become a sickness in and of itself, not unlike alcoholism in that you can be made powerless by it.

It takes work to see accomplishments that aren't on a parchment degree, yet they are there for me and they are not inconsiderable. I am extremely proud of the person I've become and my humble start in life has made me rich in many ways.

I did, however, have a conversation with my nine year old daughter recently in which she was herself mulling college:

"Mommy, what college did you go to?"

"Tali, that's an interesting question. You see..." I felt myself flubbing and faltered on "I didn't exactly graduate from college".

Her eyes went wide. I went on to explain that I didn't have a college degree and she said in her very pragmatic way, "You know, Julian and I are getting a little older and pretty soon you'll have more time for yourself. Maybe you could go to college then".

You know something Tali, you just may be onto something.


Pinky said...

Damn, G, this brought tears to my eyes. The openness and honesty is rich in your text. And your daughter is brilliant. Quite a shining star in your life.

HUGS and much love to you!

p.s. I'm a coal miner's daughter, I never finished college and I'm proud of who I am, too.

tsduff said...

Your children are treasures - and wise for their years. You are a precious gem too :-D Thanks for sharing yet another piece of life with us.

HMBT said...

Great post! Your daughter is...priceless. You should be paying those kids for the blog fodder they give so freely! :)Just kidding, that's what my oldest tells me when I write about their antics...he says..."Hey Mom...when you write a book about us, will we get an allowance then?" No.
Mate Man and I both started but didn't finish collage...eating and paying the bills got in the way of formal learning...and Mate Man has carried the burden of not being a papered collage grad through his professional career...we comfort each other with the knowledge that those guys that zoom up the ladder because they have a BA or what have you...will also be paying off their student loans til they are 60...at least we don't have to worry about that. Our kids, if they go to collage...will be the first ones in our families histories to go and complete.

pia said...

Oh G, I really do understand where you're coming from

And Tali is a true treasure to be so understanding

My mother told us that she had gone to college for two years. Brooklyn College--she lived ther

Then when we were adults and had graduated college, one day we asked her about her college experiences.

We understood that she had to drop out for various reasons.

She looked at us, and said "what college?"

It didn't make me love my mother any less. I understood how important college was to her, and how ashamed she had felt

But it did have something to do with my instance on honesty in life.

My family had stressed honesty above most other things because that's the kind of people they really were and because I was adopted

And the state of New York, all states, didn't think that adopted children had a right to know about their origins

My mother was my mother in every sense, and a little lie she told us because like you education was so important to to her, was so unimportant compared to all the wonderful things she had done for us.

She became my truest friend when I was in my 20's and 30's. Her love for me was so unconditional I could never be angry

Be proud of Tali for understanding.

But more, be proud of you for being you. You are one of the brightest people I have become fortunate enough to know

I wasn't angry at Marilee Jones for fabricating a degree in the beginning. And I could understand her shame at having to admit it.

But once she was promoted out of a purely administrative post to a managerial one, I can't understand how she could have lived with herself

You had a choice when Tali asked. You could have lied. Tali and Julian would have never questioned you

Scissor would have probably gone along with that--but that all would have required planning--after you told Tali

You chose to be truthful because truth is powerful.

My uncle killed himself when I was eight. My parents didn't tell us because my aunt chose to lie to her children and they didn't think it would be right for us to know and her sons not to

I saw how much my family changed. I was too young to put it together. But if my parents could have told us, a lot of things would have made sense

Truth might hurt G, but lies have a way of getting bigger and affecting more people

The difference between my mother's lie and my aunt's was immense--her ramifications are still going on.

And what separates you and I from Marilee Jones is that we would have never let it get to that level

Our society can't reward people who live a lie. As an adoptee who was denied knowledge about my birth mother until I found my original birth certificate, I live with the knowledge every day that I know nothing about my birth father except that his first name was John and he had three kids shortly after I was born.

I have three half siblings--Irish, I believe, who know nothing about me. I would like to know them but my birth mother made it clear that he was off limits and I couldn't disrespect her

Forgive the length of this comment, it all hadn't been in my outer concious until I began to write this comment

neva said...

impressive, NBFF -- but then, that's what you are, my friend, impressive.

i never finished college, either. tho' i'm but 12 units away from not one, but TWO, degrees -- i just never saw the advantage (for me) to take that last semester/get those diplomas in order to start my life. i don't believe all fabulous "careers" are carved out of a college education. i'm quite certain more than a few folks -- better educated than i -- are currently employed by McDonalds.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, is a fascinating story about the author's unusual childhood -- and the lengths she went to in order to keep her past out of her present. trust me, Walls' life makes yours (or mine) seem like something out of The Brady Bunch. my point, for there must be one in here, somewhere, is that shame is a terrible thing -- and a humongous waste of time. we are who we are, period. that said, Tali's right -- if a college degree is something you want, it's something you should get!

for the record, my dad once told me the only reason for me to go to college was to find a husband. how's that for incentive? xox

G said...

Pinky, now that's some street cred - a coal miner's daughter! Thanks for your wonderful comment, Tali is indeed a shining star (her Grandma calls both the kids a name in Hungarian which translates to Little Star, so perfect).

So glad to see you out from under house renovations. XOX to you too my friend.

Terry, thank you so much for coming by and sharing it with me. Always love to see that little crow perched there ready to listen.

My children are the greatest treasure in the world. Life is good.

hmbt, Thank you and yes, she is indeed priceless. Now don't go giving them any ideas, the fees are already ratcheting up for various household chores.

I totally understand MateMan's frustration, all too well. But we are who we are and life happens in its particular sequence for a reason. All of us are on the same journey in that sense - looking for the reason.

THis always comes to mind from my MIL when we fret about weight gain, or the kids little something or other, she'll say "To be healthy". How true, how true.

Pia, I not only forgive the length of your comment, I lapped it all up!

I know that you understand and it's nice reading from the daughter's side of the conversation. Your mother sounds like a gem and so very funny.

When I faltered for a second, I had to press on with honesty. Knowing my family life growing up was filled with inconsistencies or things we didn't ask about, I place a high premium on it in my adult life. It's the only way.

Your life is indeed fascinating and you are a fine example of what truth can accomplish. Thank you for your great comments, they mean so very much.

Neva, Thanks for your wonderful as always comments - a ray of sunshine you are, NBFF.

Thank you for the link to The Glass Castle! I had heard of this book on NPR or somewhere and forgot her name and the book title. You know I am not even sure if it's a degree I seek or just knowledge, a gateway.

Listen for that reason, you could have done what I did - go to a hockey game! XOX

First Nations said...

i just feel bad that you think you have something to feel ashamed about. you don't. that's bullshit.
although coming from a similar background i know what you mean, too. ah, screw it.
anyway, you'll love college-I did!

Diesel said...

Well you certainly fooled me into thinking you were educated. For that mattter, I never would have guessed you had such a rough childhood (I mean, except for hints in your other posts).

You should definitely go back to school if you have a chance. I never applied myself in school either and now I'm working on a master's in the humanities, just for the hell of it. I just love pushing myself and learning new things.

ann said...

g: I started a comment, about not going to university because my life was mapped out for me, but it opened a floodgate of other memories best left buried

your children are little gems... bless them

lotsa luv ann xxxx

Claire said...

G, you sure stirred up a hornet's nest in my brain. I think that's ok, though. My Irish father was a suicidal alcoholic with a college degree. My Italian mother had no college degree, but incredible strength and purpose. Yes, Tali is right, when the kids are grown go back and do it. You are obviously a very smart person...

goldennib said...

This is funny, not in a haha sort of way but in that other way. I come form a family similar to yours. I was the first to not only finish high school but to go to college. What I find funny is that most of the things I learned in school have not been very useful in life. Some of the dumbest people I've met have several degrees; some of the brightest haven't finished high school. We place so much importance on papers of all sorts. I prefer people who have intelligence and know how to think. I understand the ethical reasons for Marilee's resignation but her lack of degrees obviously have nothing to do with her abilities.

Go back to school by all means if you enjoy it. I love school because I find it fun. But you are already smart, talented and competent. I don't need to see a degree to know that.

First Nations said...

...what goldenib said.
i've been thinking about you since i last commented. it makes me feel so indignant. who told you that you need a degree to be respected? you are well-spoken, intelligent and strong. any idiot with the money can buy a degree. this is like thinking that owning a formula car makes you dale earnhardt.
i'm beginning to foam so i'll stop here.

G said...

Hi all: The truth is I began to answer individually and how many times can I say thank you? I don't mean that in a complaining way, G-d forbid; more, well a little embarresed by all the attention. I am deeply flattered and moved by each and every comment. You're a wonderful bunch, you are.

I love to learn, I have never not been learning - whether by quiet observation or reading a book. I do agree that some of the biggest baffoons that I know have had degrees hanging on their wall. It's not so much a degree I seek, as knowledge and understanding.

After all, that is what life is all about.

Now who's up for a good nature vs. nurture discussion :)


PS: Not for nothing (as they say in Brooklyn/Queens) - I'm pretty awed by the bunch of you.

Doug said...

Good thinking, Tali.

Gosh, I hope crossword puzzles an education makes.

G said...

Doug, I think you're good with those.

ariel said...

oh my God, G, is that a shame, really? I don't think so. or I should be terribly ashamed myself. but that guy once said, "Degree means nothing only if you have one.", and I know he was right. best luck to yours! :)

r said...

An interesting take on all of this. I live in Boston, so I heard a lot about this story at MIT. By the way, I grew up near Exit 9 on the Jersey Turnpike.

G said...

Ariel, you're so right. It is a conditioning that I grew up with which try as I might, sometimes gets the better of me. But not for long. Thank you for your insightful as always comment.

r, yes I am sure your airwaves were saturated with this story. I was a little further north...just look for the oil tanks. Thank you for your comment and welcome.

Hobbes said...

College isn't everything. You are obviously a cultivated person to whose league Ms. Jones and all her lying Minnie Strator tribe should not aspire.

G said...

Hobbes, do the Weirsdos know your opinion of college? Thanks for the vote of confidence (and the caption contest vote, might I add).

Hobbes said...

Since the Weirsdos teach/taught at Veryred State University, I think they are aware that a degree is only as good or bad as the education that went into it.

weirsdo said...

But we still do say, good idea, Tali. I think you would really enjoy and get a lot out of college, G, but mainly because you'd already be bringing so much learning and experience to it.

G said...

Hobbes, so true. Also, what the person getting the education brings to the table.

Weirsdo, I think that I would enjoy it for those very reasons. I may just start on a learning voyage and see where it takes me.