I wasn’t the best student in high school and things didn’t improve much in college; it took me 3 tries before I graduated….when I was 30. So when I told my parents that I was going to get my Master’s degree, you can image their reaction. Was I going to start and stop like I did during my undergrad years? Was I going to be able to focus for an entire semester? And what about the fact I had a full-time job?
But I succeeded. In fact, I did so well that my Master’s Project was chosen by my department as the Outstanding Master’s Project for 2010! This is me at the awards ceremony Thursday night:
My husband and mother were in the audience watching proudly as I accepted my award. They listened intently as the presenter described the project as a simple, original, and publishable idea. I was glad my husband was there, but I know my mom was close to tears as she was listening and watching. And this is where history, school, and I collide.
Roosevelt University opened its doors in 1945 with the determination to”make higher education available to all students who could qualify academically…[without] Considerations of social or economic class, racial or ethnic origin, sex, or age.” The idea must have been unimaginable to most people then.
1945. The Army was still segregated. Brown vs. the Board of Education was almost a decade in the future. Emett Till was only a 4 year old boy in Chicago…never dreaming of how he’d change history 10 years later in Money, Mississpi. Martin Luther King, Jr was still a college student in Atlanta Georgia. Malcolm X was a petty criminal about to serve 8-10 years in prison.
And my grandmother, Callie Miller Murphy, was a homemaker living in the Ida B. Wells housing projects in Chicago with her husband and two daughters. Her life was full with family, friends, and church. But apparently she felt something was missing…
Fast forward to January 2008. I’m a brand new student talking to Mom about the first day of school. She asks where I’m going and I say Roosevelt — silence. Then she says in a choked voice “you know, that’s where your grandmother went to school before we moved. I remember her riding the bus downtown so she could go to class…”
I don’t think Grandma graduated; Grandpa moved the family to Idlewild, MI around 1948 or so and it would be about 15 years before she finished her degree and started her career as a teacher.
In May, I’m graduating from Roosevelt University with a Master’s degree, about 60 years after Grandma began her college career there. Though I’m the one receiving the degree, Grandma is the one who fulfilled the school’s mission to make higher education available to all qualified students without regard to social or economic class, racial or ethnic origin, sex, or age.
There are photographs in the hallways of Roosevelt’s Auditorium building – pictures of students taken in the 1940s and 1950s. I find myself walking slowly down those hallways, hoping one day to catch a glimpse of Grandma.