Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Nancy Died Yesterday

Not a Nancy that anyone reading this, except a few colleagues at UF, is likely to know. Nancy was in charge of the copy center hear at UF -- more specifically she was "the" copy center.

She was the one who had to deal with every irresponsible faculty member wanting 75 copies of a 5 page exam a hour before the exam was to be given. Or, everyone who could not understand why it might not be legal to photocopy a book or most of one.

The main thing about Nancy, though, is that she was reminder of the privileged status of others. I did not know her well, although we intereacted almost daily. You knew she was a person with no safety net, no middle class or rich mom or dad to help her out when her husband was out of work which was not uncommon. Her teeth were a mess owing to years of neglect resulting from being on the edge economically. So many other signs that she struggled physically and financially.

When I saw her I saw what could have been my mother had life's randomness not intervened. Working all day for not very much and seeing the rest of us all comfy in our nice houses and cars and working far less hard. She reminds me of every working class person from the State and their sons and daughters who will have very difficult time achieving what others achieve with far less effort.

When a working class person dies who seemed to always stuggle and had no real security and an inadequate amount of what law professors take for granted, I think of my favorite poem, The Village Blacksmith.


Anonymous said...

Being working class or poor is not necessarily a bar to higher education. Many of my fellow classmates here at UF are single moms, come from immigrant families, or otherwise have no "trust fund". I also came from a working class/poor background (mom does clerical work, dad is a janitor, both are immigrants.) Maybe I had to work a bit harder to get to law school, but that is not a bad thing. It instilled in me a certain work ethic that my "Better off" classmates don't have. I didn't have the luxury of a big law summer associate job in a big city b/c I couldn't pay two rents, etc. But to say that her children will never go to lawschool is a bit of an overstatement. A little hard work can go father than a checkbook.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

My background is similar to yours and I achieved what I achieved in the way you describe it and I know others who did as well. My real sense and perhaps I will reword the post is that others do have any sense or appreciation for what it means to do it on your own. In fact, I think they find it threatening but that goes back to other postings on this blog.

Different Anonymous said...

I am a law grad from a non-privileged (although not poor) background and I had to achieve it on my own. I think its right on the money to say that those from privilege don't have an appreciation of what it means to do it on your own. They don't (or can't) understand that its harder to do it on your own. It's substantially harder, such that some of those from privileged backgrounds could not have done it on their own. Because of this differential, there are many people out there who were as capable and more determined than those from privileged backgrounds, but they were not able to make it because they had a much higher hill to climb. For people that fall into that margin, privilege is the only thing that separates them from lawyers, law professors, and everyone else who has achieved a life of comfort and security.

No one would assert that it's impossible to do it on your own. The point is that its harder, and that the extra difficulty does put it out of reach for some who would have achieved it had they began at an easier starting point. Hardwork can only overcome so much of a disadvantage, and only if you happen to be born with the level of intelligence required to do so.

How did Nancy die?

Anonymous said...

For some reason, your link to the Longfellow poem didn't work, but this one did:

Thanks for a nice post and a great poem. For what it's worth, from my own observations, I think it's an inscrutable mix of personality, influence, and luck that helps some of us scrabble up the ladder.

Higher ed said...

Sorry to hear. I met her but I did not know her well