The letter is neatly typed and yellowed with age. Dated March 19, 1969, it begins, “The Committee on Admissions has reviewed your application to Georgetown University. I am happy to offer you a place in the freshman class beginning September, 1969.” At the top, “GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY” is centered in blue capital letters, simple and understated.
My mother found it pressed between the pages of a book in her upstairs hallway. She returned it to me, and I forgot it until a few weekends ago. My husband and I discovered it while cleaning out an upstairs room in preparation for remodeling.
Reading this missive from the past, a flood of emotions washes over me, some so powerful that I must sit down and hold my head in my hands, closing my eyes. I remember that summer of 1969 when all avenues had been exhausted. I wasn’t going to Georgetown; in fact, I wasn’t going to college at all. From the time I was about 12 I had known what I wanted to do with my life. My ambition was to become a translator at the United Nations. I was smart, so I knew I would be accepted at a good school. I had studied in Europe the summer before, finding the language courses so easy. I spoke fluent French as I traveled through Europe.
My parents’ divorce intervened. There was no money. Their bitter split prevented them from filling out the necessary financial aid applications. Frantic, I applied to Albany State, but too late. I wasn’t going to college.
The letter goes on to say, “If you wish to reserve a place in the class of 1973, a placement deposit of $50 must be returned along with the enclosed cards so that they reach this office on or before May 1, 1969.”
The tuition was $2,000 per year. I had filled out the cards that I was instructed to complete and return. They were there together with the letter in the envelope from Georgetown, not having met the deadline of May 1, 1969.
I would have just missed Bill Clinton, who graduated in 1968. I remember so clearly my incredulity when I was told I would not be going to college; and then, the hurt and acute disappointment. When I finally accepted the sad fact that college was not going to happen, I got a job at the telephone company as a long distance operator. I got pregnant, got married, and got divorced.
Somewhere along the way I took a course or two at Schenectady County Community College. When my children were finally in school all day I registered full time and selected a program. I went at it with a vengeance, attacking assignments, acing all my courses and signing up for every extracurricular activity: tutoring, committees, recruiting, sports. When I graduated, I had to cross the stage four times to pick up all my honoraria. I took my degree in paralegal studies and my position at the top of the class and got the job everyone else in my program wanted. It was advertised as a legal assistant, but the position was mostly secretarial. Regardless, the pay was good for a single mom and I stayed there for more than 27 years.
I have since retired from that institution and am finally working in my field, as a court clerk.
What if . . .
The letter concluded, “Congratulations on having fared so well against very stiff competition. I expect your academic excellence to continue and I look forward to welcoming you to Georgetown in September.”
This is especially painful. I made it; against “stiff competition.” Who got to have the place that I did not accept? If I went, would I have succeeded? Or would I have dropped out and come home? Would I have indeed gone to work at the U.N., or would I have stayed in Washington, D.C., working for some high-level government official? Would my children be pointing proudly at me as I was quoted on television and photographed leaning in toward foreign dignitaries at government gatherings? Would I even have had my children? I will never know; but, this last “what if” gives me great pause.
I don’t know what to do with this letter. I carry it around with me these days in a plastic sleeve. It is good for wallowing in regret whenever I need such a thing.
Instead of going away to Georgetown University I stayed here in a more or less ordinary life and along the way had two smart, beautiful children. I have a few regrets but they do not involve my beloved offspring. “The light of my life” does not even come close to describing them. There are so many times my son has said to me, “Mom, you were always there; you never gave up on us.” My daughter, upon reading this letter from Georgetown, wondered aloud how we are to know what our true purpose in life is; and then, she simply said, “it was not meant to be.”
Reflecting on positive
There is so much sadness everywhere. I have friends who have lost loved ones or have endured catastrophic disease. A man who came to my office today had just lost everything he owns and is sleeping outside on the street. There are people being tortured all over the world; there is suffering in Haiti and Chile. I look at this letter and burst into tears. What am I thinking? I am so blessed. I got to live my life and have great kids, and I still have my health. Perhaps my purpose has yet to be fulfilled.
Bill Clinton went on to become president. I did not become famous or renowned or graduate from Georgetown. But I raised two beautiful children who have grown up to be responsible, caring adults. I love them fiercely and they love me back, unconditionally. In this season of college graduations, I reflect, and am happy with the course my life took.
Audrey Osterlitz lives in Scotia. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.
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