When I was a college student majoring in English in Caldwell, N.J., I had the classic career debate with my practical parents.
I dreamed of becoming a writer, but they insisted I take education courses. Because my father was paying my tuition, I agreed. So I’ve spent my life juggling two rewarding careers: teaching and writing.
I teach a writing-intensive section of critical thinking class at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. When my students tackle my “Solving a Personal Problem” essay assignment, many discuss struggles with career choices. Things have not changed that much, except that now they debate becoming freelance game designers or creating new apps vs. the guaranteed income that comes with being on staff of a company.
Most of my students are the first in their working-class families to attend college. As they weigh the pros and cons of careers, they often gravitate toward the steady income because they want to take care of their aging parents, many of whom work hard, physical jobs. I am touched when I read of their devotion.
I hear this refrain from students who are Dominican, Chinese, Pakistani and every other ethnicity on our diverse campus. Immigrant parents sacrifice so their sons or daughters can go to college and become middle class.
Not only will my students hope to support themselves after graduation, they’ll also provide for their parents, many of whom will eventually retire on limited incomes. Many of my students want to do this, even if it means having to pursue their creative projects on the side.
Reading their essays, I realize my privilege. My parents were middle class, so taking care of them financially in their old age was not an issue.
I’m impressed with my students’ family values and work ethic and wish them the best as they prepare to transfer to four-year colleges.
Conservatives who oppose increasing student financial aid, and politicians who play games with CUNY funding, need to realize this investment goes a long way.
Kate Walter is the author of “Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing.”