A friend of mine dropped by recently and told me she has registered to go back to college in the spring semester. Like so many other North Carolinians, about 800,000 every year, my friend is enrolling in a state community college. She will matriculate at Fayetteville Technical Community College in the General College program. Most of her courses will be taught online, though she will have to go to campus for classes involving labs.
    My friend is not a contemporary of my young adult children, who are still in school and are still searching for themselves. She is the bright and energetic 40-something mother of four active children, all still at home. She owns her own small business. She volunteers in her children’s schools and spends substantial time overseeing homework, mediating social issues and ferrying children around to their various activities. Only one of her precious gems has a driver’s license. This is definitely a working woman, both in her job and at home.
    {mosimage}When she told me her plans, I felt like putting on my cheerleading outfit and shaking my pompoms. I am delighted for my friend on so many levels. First of all, she knows she needs more education than she has now. She recognizes that to keep her family on stable financial footing, she must have training and job skills that employers want now and into the future when her children move on and she is no longer behind the wheel of the family minivan for hours a day, juggling her own working hours. My friend understands that in the long run she, and her children, will be competing in the workplace not just with others from our community but with people from all over the world. China and India, in particular, are educating their people to compete with others from across the globe, and if our people, like my friend, are not prepared, they will lose in the race for economic opportunity. When I was growing up, an adult could make a reasonable living using his or her hands and body — as my grandfather used to say, “by the sweat of his brow.” My friend has absorbed the new reality that the jobs of the future will be done with one’s head and intellect, and she is preparing herself for that. 
    The other reason I am so pleased by my friend’s decision is the message it sends to her children and to other young people who cross her path. It says more clearly than words can that education is the key to a more productive future and a better quality of life. It says “I have tried life without education, and having an education is better. It is important enough to seek not just early in life, but anywhere along life’s journey.” 
    My friend has told her children, even the 8-year-old, that when she goes into her study room and shuts the door, she is working and not to be disturbed in the same way they would not disturb her at her workplace. She knows, just as you and I do, that going back to school in mid-life will have its challenges. I have not thought about algebra or physical science in a while, and neither has she. I have juggled home and work for most of my adult life, but I have yet to throw college courses and study time into that mix. I have taken a course here and there for pleasure at FTCC, but completing a curriculum program over a period of years is a much bigger mountain.
    People delay their educations for all kinds of reasons. My friend is typical of women who do so. She married and had a child, divorced, remarried and had three more.  She is as attentive a mother as I know, and she has put her family — husband and children, and their needs before her own. When we visit, I hear much more about them than about her school issues, health concerns, field trips, college planning and the in-law with a serious medical condition.         
    It may be that my friend considers her recent decision just another way to take better care of her family, and in some ways, that is true. Continuing her education will make her eligible for jobs that pay better than her own enterprise does, and I have no doubt at all that her increased prosperity will be shared generously with her family. What she may not have factored in is the pleasure she is going to find in intellectual stimulation and in the company of others seeking education themselves. She may not know yet that education feeds on itself, that the more you know, the more you want to know.  She may not understand just yet how one question leads to another and what a delight it can be to follow such a path of inquiry. 
    I am going to look for my pompoms right now so that when I see my friend next week, I can properly say, “You go, girl!”

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