Not too long ago, I heard the city of Philadelphia described as a city of “eds and meds”, meaning that there are a lot of educational and medical facilities in and around the city. Which is true; you don’t have to go too far around here before you stumble onto a college campus or some kind of world-class hospital. And I can tell you from first-hand experience that if you’ve got some kind of condition that you need treatment for, we’ve got you covered.
“I’ll take ‘Doctors Specializing in Multi-Lobed Unruptured Aneurysms’ for $1000, Alex.”
And man, do we have colleges and universities. I know it’s a cliché, but we’ve got every major from Architecture to Zoology here. We’ve got an Ivy (Penn), a couple of satellite campuses of the official state college (Penn State Abington, Brandywine and Great Valley), a huge urban university in a questionable area (Temple in North Philadelphia), an agriculturally-focused one in the far northern suburbs (Delaware Valley University), elite liberal arts colleges (Swarthmore, Haverford), one of the Seven Sisters (Bryn Mawr), a historically Black one (Cheyney), the “Big 5” for all of your college basketball needs (Penn, Temple, LaSalle, St. Joe’s and Villanova), a handful of smaller, private colleges (Chestnut Hill, Rosemont, Cabrini).
I decided to jump-start my college career (I’ve lost count how many times I’ve done that) at my local community college, Delaware County Community College. I applied online during a break in between meetings a few years ago and got accepted 15 minutes later. Community colleges get a really bad rap, I think. Their mission is to serve the community at large and help everyone further their education, whether you’re working towards a specific degree or just want to take a few non-credit courses in flower arranging. I thought I’d save floral design for another time, so I dove right into working on an associate’s degree in Business Administration.
Which is wonderful and great, but if I want to sit for my CPA license, I need a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s as well, since Pennsylvania requires 160 college credits to sit for the CPA certification. Which means I’d have to transfer to a four-year school, which means I’d have to figure out where I wanted to go.
But I already had the answer to that question. Around fifteen years ago, I was driving down Lancaster Avenue in Radnor, PA and I had to stop for a red light. To my left were the double spires of St. Thomas Of Villanova, the huge Catholic church on Villanova’s campus. Students were crossing Lancaster in their ‘Nova sweatshirts with their backpacks slung over their shoulders, hurrying off to the library or to their Russian Lit class.
And I was envious of them. Jealous and angry at myself for not working harder when I was in high school and realizing a little too late that if I was going to go to college, the whole load would be on me. I was pissed off at the ridiculous, stifling patriarchy that colored most of childhood from the time my stepfather entered my life at 9 to the time I moved out when I was 19.
I was up at 5 in the morning, getting ready to go to work. I had been offered a great job at a Big Financial Services Firm a few months earlier and the commute was, and there’s no other way to put it, a bitch. The opportunity was too terrific to pass up, so P and I figured that I’d do the hour-long drive for a couple of months and we’d move somewhere closer in the spring, probably after my graduation from DCCC in May.
I’m half-asleep and there’s a fifteen-pound cat batting the leg of my pajamas with his paw, because he’s clearly wasting away waiting for his breakfast. I take my phone out of airplane mode and I see my new email headers floating across the screen. As I’m putting Frogger’s tuna-and-chicken into his bowl, I see something that stops me cold:
“News From Villanova University”
I give Frogger his breakfast, walk into the living room and fire up my laptop. I already knew my application had been reviewed holistically by the adult/continuing education college at the school and it was passed on to very competitive business school for consideration. Villanova’s b-school’s no joke; it was recently voted the best business school in the country. I’d already been warned by two advisors at both DCCC and Villanova that this is no slam dunk and despite a general 3.78 GPA, I may not be accepted.
And now I get it. Now I finally understand why all of my high school friends, the ones who where in the honor society with the great grades and who worked their asses off, the ones who were waiting to hear from Columbia and Princeton and Northwestern and Syracuse, died a little bit every day when they came home to find a letter from their college of choice in their mailbox. Was it a thin envelope or a fat one? Was it full of possibilities or a polite refusal? Can I brag about it tomorrow or will I cry at my locker?
So here I am, at 5:12 in the morning, going through the exact same thing. I’m 52, in my flannel pajamas and socks, working my laptop. I’ve worked my ass off for my 3.78, and I’ll probably graduate with high honors. If Villanova says “Uh, no thanks”, Temple will be more than happy to have me.
Age does that to you, you know. You accept disappointment a little better. I mean, Temple’s got a great accounting program, too. So, I click.
Son of a bitch. I’m in. I did it. I did it. I got into the college of my choice. I’m…stunned. Really? I’m in.
I’m in. I did it. I’m a Wildcat. I’m a Villanova Wildcat.
Son of a bitch.
I got the fat letter.