11.26.2007

forgiving versus forgetting

Back when I was just a young dakini, and the prime rate was 20%, I found myself partway through Columbia University School of Law with a reduced scholarship for my third and final year.

I put myself through law school. My parents were both retired, and my dad was old and sick, when I entered law school, and the only financial support they were able to give me was $200 when I set off for New York City. By my last year in law school, I had no savings left, despite having a nice job in Manhattan the summer before my third year in law school.

I knew the score. I'd met a cab driver who told me he'd completed one year at Columbia Law School, and I had no reason to doubt him. I needed to finish my law degree to get a license to practice law.

When I protested to the financial aid director of the law school at the time (one John B. Snook), his response was, "Have your parents sell their house. You can buy them a new house after you graduate." The timing of this "advice" was particularly bad, since my dad had just had brain surgery, and was diagnosed with a previously-undetected case of prostate cancer immediately after the surgery.

Of course, I didn't even ask my folks about selling their house. It wasn't like they owned a palatial estate in Westchester. It was a modest three-bedroom house in a little factory town where no one lives unless they have to. I worked during the school year my last year in school, which brought my grades down, but I did finish with my class. And I made a solemn vow that I would never, ever donate a penny to Columbia.

I've made peace with this over the years--to some extent--but I will not break my vow. It was the only action that I felt I could take at the time to fight back against an interaction that I felt to be downright cruel. I've certainly seen greater acts of cruelty than this over the years, and in fact I'd now downgrade this to "callously insensitive." Nevertheless.

Now I am in receipt of a letter from the 25th Reunion Committee from my class at Columbia telling me that I have a "responsibility to give back" to Columbia. To which my politest possible response is, "I don't think so." I will forgive, but I won't forget.

7 comments:

Martha said...

Amen! The advice to have your parents sell their house is not just callous, but potentially ruinous. I think I'd classify it as malpractice. There are so many things wrong with this advice that it almost beggars description.

Brigid said...

What Martha says.

Brigid

Barbara said...

Wow. I'd "give back" to Columbia, all right. But what I'd give back wouldn't be green and it would not smell good.

Kristy said...

Schools are shameless in their fundraising efforts. If they spent more time treating their students like customers (which they are) rather than peons, they might be a bit more successful in garnering the support they seek from them later.

Other than that, are you considering going to the reunion?

Patrick said...

My parents did not pay my way through school, and I also worked all three years. Not a choice, and it did affect my grades a little.

I think I owe the future students something, more than I owe the the law school. Could you give to a need based scholarship fund, but not buy doorknobs for the new faculty lounge?

the goddess said...

Huh? I don't think I owe the future students a goddamned thing.

Ehram said...

I've just applied to study a law degree and am in a very similair position. I've got savings from summer work and have been granted a scholarship, I'm still worried as to whether or not I'll have the funds to complete my degree...don't see my parents selling the house to help me out so I guess it'll have to be a part time job while studying for me. If you can do it I don't see why I can't.