Sunday, March 11, 2012

Kids: Remember that less money or stability are better options than less happiness. Parents: Look at your own list of regrets, and do all you can to make your children’s half as long.

Toward the end of my senior year of high school, I had narrowed my list of prospective colleges down to two very, very different options. I could go to the good school in my hometown, which was offering me quite a bit of money.

Or I could go all the way to Florence, Italy for my entire freshman year of school.

You see, I didn’t properly get into NYU when I applied. When NYU wants someone but they don’t have room in the city, they accept a student to one of their abroad campuses instead. I would spend freshman year abroad, then the other three at the school I originally applied to in Manhattan.

The farthest I had been out of the country at that point was Canada. I desperately wanted to visit Italy, but that wasn’t the same as wanting to live there. I had taken Spanish and French in high school so I was well set-up to learn Italian. But, again, that wasn’t the same as being ready to live for a year in a place where they spoke Italian all the time.

My best friend was planning to go to the College of Wooster, and I wasn’t sure what I would do without the girl who had been my partner in crime since the age of nine. I’m also one of those lucky people who not only loves but likes her entire family, and didn’t relish the idea of being so far from them either.

The other thing about NYU was that they weren’t offering me very much in the way of scholarship money. And it was by far the most expensive college I had applied to. My family was hit with some tough stuff throughout my childhood; much of which resulted in hefty medical bills. So I knew that aside from some money my grandfather had left me, and that my parents would help where they could, I would be more or less on my own in handling tuition costs.

And yet every time I thought seriously about staying in Wooster, my stomach clenched into knots. I’d always wanted to live somewhere like New York or London. Somewhere where people were a little more open-minded about things, and saw how wonderfully important books and movies could be. Somewhere where friends would never take “going to Walmart” as a serious suggestion for a fun thing to do on Saturday night. Italy was scary, yes. But in a lot of ways staying home would be even scarier.

I went to my dad for advice and was sure he would urge me to take the safer, fiscally responsible route.

But after he listened to me say just what I’ve said here, he looked at me in thoughtful silence for a moment. “You want to go to NYU, Jilly,” he finally said. “I can hear it in your voice. And that’s really all there is to it, isn’t it?”

It was. I accepted my place at NYU’s La Pietra campus almost immediately afterward. And as if giving me a pat on the back for making the scary decision, NYU soon told me that they had space for me on the Manhattan campus after all.

So as far as life decisions are concerned, that conversation with my dad wasn’t that important. After all, I didn’t end up doing either of the things that we discussed.

But what that conversation did do was show me that my smart, rational father didn’t want me to make the safe choices. He wanted me to make the ones that would make me happy.

Thank you so much, Dad. If you were less great, I would probably have some stable, decent-paying job that would bring me about 1/32 of the joy that writing does.


  1. you are very, very lucky. Very lucky. That's about all I have to say on that. I'm still being told to go to medical school to be a doctor, which just isn't going to happen. I wasn't even allowed to go to art camp for two weeks in the summer while I was in high school. Because it was ridiculous to spend that much money in pursuit of art. I'm glad you have a great father, it's brought us some awesome writing.

    1. Thank you! I have nothing but the highest respect for people who follow their dreams IN SPITE of what their parents want--that's way harder than what I did.