Education is priceless but costly

Two days ago I drove from Maine to Connecticut with my sixteen-year-old daughter. The trip was easy although five hours in a car seem like eternity to a teenager. We spoke a lot. Actually, she spoke a lot which was nice, considering that often I talk to myself when I drive with my kids who are always plugged into their own worlds of I. Pods, cell phones and such. She shared her anticipation and anxiety as well as a detailed summary of her two years of high school. Highly entertaining and heart breaking too.
My daughter is attending a summer program at Yale University offered to high school students entering junior and senior year. To be honest it wasn’t my daughter’s idea. Summer for her should be spent between long lazy mornings, afternoons with friends and long nights on Facebook. Nothing really wrong with that. Except that we have done it and by the time mid July hits, the kids are all bored.
As immigrants who have made a new life in the US, my husband and I bump into symbols that don’t belong to our life story: proms, school graduations, wedding rehearsals, baby and bride showers, driver license at 16 and Ivy League schools.
Besides a few elite business and engineering schools, education is public and free in France and we have so far always favored public education for our children. But the Yale summer program offers a mix of classes and activities that was appealing. With one of our children studying at UC Berkeley, and another one at Yale for one summer, it is as if we were also attending the prestigious schools and more Americans than ever.
We pulled in New Haven under a grey sky and sultry air. The hotel my husband picked couldn’t have been better located. Situated on Chapel Street, the Study is facing Yale School of Arts and is within a couple of blocks from the Old Campus. My daughter and I explored the area which is a mini downtown within the University. Cafés, bookstores, boutiques selling candles and incense as if we were still in the 60s but also contemporary jewelry stores and trendy clothes.
The buildings of the University reminded me of London and my daughter evocated Harry Potter. Their somber glory invite to a journey of learning and discovery. I envied my daughter for being part of the old history of Yale, even for only three weeks.
The summer program provided a map with boundaries that the students should respect at all times. As we passed them I realized we had entered a different town. People of all ages were either waiting for a bus or someone to pick them up. They spoke in clusters, smoking and checking each other out. Most of them were African Americans. A large green stretches between them and the Old Campus. Old leafy trees make large parasols above benches tucked under them. Mostly older men were sitting there, a bag dropped on the bench or at their feet. Did they wait for someone? Did they take a rest from the heat? Did they have a home somewhere?
Across from them, cars started to pull over, unloading girls and boys and their belongings for the duration of the Yale summer program. Most cars had license plates from an east coast state. Most students were white. I spoke to a French woman, saw a family from Quebec and met my daughter’s roommate who is from Guatemala. Besides them I assume a few other boys and girls come from South America and Europe.
I kept thinking of the young African American boys and girls I saw on the other side of the green and although we came a long way electing our first African American president, we’ve got a long road ahead of us when we think of education.
Uneasiness bothered me in Aspen, Colorado where real estate agencies offer houses for several millions dollars. In New Haven, Connecticut, I debated the choice my husband and I made to spend money toward an educated summer. I am positive it will only benefit our daughter, already a bright, compassionate and generous person. It is a choice neither of us regret.
As I pulled away from Yale, I only wished the heavy wrought gates opening onto the Old Campus would let in more than the teenagers who are fortunate to have families who know that education is priceless although costly.

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