All the attention on potential doubling the interest on the Stafford Loans has intensified the spotlight on the cost of higher education . . . again. But listening to the radio on my commute yesterday what used to be anxiety about how to pay for my college bound son’s education has been replaced by a growing well of proud confidence.
We logged onto the computer last night and pressed the submit button — putting our deposit down at UMass Amherst — the final decision after months of the college application and finally selection process. He has fallen in love with history and can’t seem to get enough of it, already taking community college courses during his senior year to feed a voracious curiosity about the history of our nation.
As I think about the options for a “history major” graduate, I’m glad that bundles of debt won’t close the doors to his pursuit of a career that may not bring in the salary needed to get even financially. He will have choices.
I have to admit that when I arrived at UMass Boston five years ago, I was a little skeptical about public higher education. I was somewhat of an education snob, having worked for over 20 years in fundraising at elite private universities. Things have really circled back in my perspective.
My parents were first generation college graduates and public education opened the gateway to professional accomplishment. Dad graduated from UMass Lowell (then Lowell Technical Institute) and served the government as a meteorologist and my mom prepared to be a lifelong community college professor at Salem State. Education was center stage in our dinner conversations and their success — both career wise and finanically — allowed my siblings and I to attend Ivy League institutions — supposedly the best of the best.
But having the privilege of being a part of a public university has shown me that the best of the best is just as much here as at those institutions. When it comes down to it, the turning point in my intellectual life was the afternoon that my English professor, looked me in the eye after having read my essay and told me, “You have a voice.” I believed in myself as a thinker really for the first time that day.
At a public institution, especially one like ours, faculty in myriad ways are telling our students that they have voices and that their lives matter. I might even say they do it far more than the professors at private institutions who seem less to be drawn by the students they teach than by the pursuit of knowledge.
Again and again I’ve met faculty here richly committed to both sides of the equation, teaching and research. And because our university has such remarkable ties to the community, the knowledge generated here seems to always be directed to some useful purpose, some social good. It is never knowledge for knowledge’s sake.
So my family has come full circle with regard to public education with my son’s selection of the University of Massachusetts. I couldn’t be more delighted.
On Monday, April 30th we will celebrate UMass Boston’s mission at our
8th Annual Scholarship Gala. The university will bestow its highest honor, the Chancellor’s Medal for Exemplary Leadership on Peter J. Berlandi ’69 a Boston State College graduate. It has been months of preparing for the event which has already close to $500,000 for the new Peter and Jackie Berlandi Scholarship that will benefit Boston students. We applaud Berlandi because his life of public service has powerfully represented the Boston State legacy of “Education for Service.”
In planning the evening’s program, I had the honor of reaching out to Lilly O’Flaherty ’11 who will be our student speaker. She will represent the type of student who will be our new Berlandi Scholars. Lilly received a four year full ride from the Boston Globe and that company should be intensely proud of their accomplishment in cultivating the talent of Lilly.
A former honors student and editor of the university’s student magazine, she is brimming with intelligence and social commitment. She now teaches at the Boston International School and is everyday inspiring lives of success for its immigrant student population.
In preparing her speech, Lilly wrote that her most stellar student is a young woman from Haiti who lost both parents in the 2010 earthquake. She has been humbled by this student’s remarkable triumphs in the face of life’s adversity. And because Lilly so believes in the power of a UMass Boston education, she has convinced this senior to attend our university. The challenge now is to find adequate financial aid so that she can confidently do so.
The Berlandi Scholarship, made possible by the generosity of a whole new group of investors in Boston’s public university, may just be her ticket.
Nan Cormier is director of advancement communications at UMass Boston