American Success Story

Last week’s post (and a few others) aside, I did not design this blog as a venue for political rants. My objective was to create a spot where I could explore the changing world around me as I charted new territory as a mom whose kids have mainly flown the coop. It has become a place where I choose to make my thoughts public while on my ever-continuing search for the meaning of life. My intention is to still not make this blog all about politics, but to occasionally write it the way I see it in all aspects of life: career, family, relationships, environment, and maybe once in a while politics.

Here is my reality: I am an American success story.

My father was the first in his family to go to college. The adopted son of Irish and Danish immigrants, he was truly lucky in life: lucky to be chosen by a couple who desperately wanted a child, lucky to grow up with an extended family that doted on him, lucky to be encouraged to chase his American dream, and very lucky to find and marry my mother, the daughter of Italian immigrants, who both loved and put up with him. Despite my dad’s college degree, he still struggled to put food on the table and a roof overhead for his five kids.

I was the first of my generation to go to college; an opportunity I nearly squandered, but then created chances to redeem myself later on. My husband, raised by a single mother,  was the first in his family to get a college education and a Master’s Degree. We never chose the highest-paying career tracks, but we have risen from our family of origins’ constant economic struggles to a comfortable very middle class status. It’s not always easy and we don’t have any luxuries in our lives, but we have a decent home and can always buy groceries.

Our elder daughter was the first in her generation to get a Bachelor’s Degree and then a Master’s Degree. She has used her education to launch herself into a career and a city that she chose, where she is now self-sustaining. Our younger daughter will graduate this spring with a Bachelor’s Degree and is headed to law school in the fall. They both work hard and make us very proud parents.

We are an American success story. We have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. Ever since my first job in high school flipping burgers and asking, “Would you like fries with that?” I have worked. I spent a couple of years working full time and going to college full time. I have spent more than a few years working two jobs at once in order to pay off debt and sock away a very small amount in savings. We have been able to help our daughters a little bit with living expenses as they struggle to get on their feet. We do not have enough in our retirement accounts and have never worked jobs where there are pension plans. Despite all that, we are an American success story.

Our parents emphasized education and hard work as a way up and a way out of poverty. They encouraged us to seek something better than what they were able to attain. We watched them eke out a living and strove to create a better life for ourselves and our children. We encouraged our children to go to college. Actually, we didn’t present it as one of several options, we always talked about it as the ONLY option. We wanted them to be able to choose a life that would provide personal satisfaction and allow them to pay their own way in the world. We wanted our kids to do better. Isn’t that what all parents want for their children? I am not talking just about earning power, but about lifestyle choices.

It would be glorious to think that every American can do the same thing. I am not naïve enough to believe that. Not all children are born into circumstances where they have choices. Many are born into extreme poverty either in inner city slums or incredibly rural areas where they literally cannot visualize a way up and out. Many have come from generations that have lived in poverty for so long they don’t understand any alternatives, and they may not be able to find one job, let alone two. There honestly are people in our wealthy country who need a helping hand from time to time and we should be generous enough to reach out to them.  We should show them the way to climb out of their oppressive surroundings and give them hope for a better life.

I believe strongly in growth through education. Even when our economy falters, those who have a higher education still make out better than those without. Even if an education doesn’t lead you into a higher socio-economic class, it leads you to become a better person. It opens doors you didn’t even know were closed. Education should be a life-long ambition so that we choose to never quit learning and continue to expand our brains well into adulthood. It is unquestionably harder for young people today to afford a college education than it was when I graduated from high school. I don’t think it should be free for all because I do believe in the value of earning something, but it sure would be nice to make it more affordable.

Without getting into a significant political rant today, I will sum up why this is important to understand. I am the product of immigrant ancestors and I am an American success story. My success has been made possible by hard work, determination, and circumstances in this country where it is possible to change ones’ life for the better. We don’t need some guy who was born with a gold-plated spoon in his mouth to tell us that we should make America great. He doesn’t get it and he truly doesn’t have anyone’s best interests at heart except his own. America is already great.  It has become greater during my lifetime as it grows more inclusive.  America remains the land of opportunity, and I believe strongly that everyone should have the same prospects for success.  Everyone.

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