Monday, May 2, 2016

How times have changed; my mother would have smacked me upside the head if I asked for a “gap” year before college

I don’t know what I would have done if anybody had presented me with the idea of a “gap” year back in the early 1980s when I was going through the process of considering college.

Malia Obama and her father, the president, board Air Force One earlier this year for a trip together. In just over a year, she'll be off on her own -- bound for Cambridge, Mass.,and the Ivy League life. Photograph provided by the White House.
Probably would have wound up trying to get some sort of job to bring in some money. But then again, wasn’t the point of continuing one’s studies beyond the level of a high school diploma that we got to divert the need to work for a living for a few years?

ALL OF THIS has been banging about my brain since the moment Sunday morning when I looked at my cellphone and saw I had received an e-mail from the Chicago Sun-Times telling me of BREAKING NEWS.

As in Malia Obama, the 17-year-old daughter of President Barack Obama, deciding she was going to continue her education at Harvard University – the place where her parents attended law school. It really doesn't take much to qualify as "news" on the Sunday broadcasts or the Monday ayem newspapers. Remember how much of former politico Pat Quinn's Sunday stunts got good "play?"

Malia, with any luck, will get to hang around Harvard Yard a few years, gain some academic and personal experiences, then make her efforts to amount to something in life beyond being Obama’s eldest daughter.

But it wasn’t until I saw follow-up reports in the websites of the Chicago Tribune (she was the lede story), the New York Times (she took a back seat to her father’s Correspondent’s dinner appearance the night before) and the Washington Post that the gap year angle jumped out.

MALIA WILL HOLD off of attending actual classes until the autumn of 2017. She won’t be a graduate until the early 2020s. She’ll use the year off to partake in some sort of travel or work or personal project that will enhance her as a human being.

Even more so than the Ivy League degree will do.

White House officials would not say exactly what Malia would do with that year off. Which makes me wonder how long until the joke machines will go into overtime.

As it is already, the idea of someone taking time off between high school and college for reasons other than having to help financially to support their families usually gets played up as a kid being some sort of lazy goof.

THEY’RE EITHER JUST being lazy and doing nothing, or else they come from some sort of wealth that enables them to travel somewhere to engage in a drunken, ribald sojourn through Europe or some other semi-exotic place.

Of course, some people want to believe that’s about all a college education amounts to these days – usually the kind of people who didn’t go straight from high school to higher education because they didn’t have the qualifications to do so themselves.

Now I’m not trying to mock Malia. I’ve never met her or sister Sasha, but I hope she is able to figure out something worthwhile to do so she doesn’t waste a year of her life.

I know in my case, going straight into academia was probably the most significant thing I could have done with the 1983-84 academic year. I suspect I would have wound up stuck working in some sort of retail job. That is, after recovering from the smack upside my head that my mother -- who pumped the idea of attending college into my head constantly -- would have given me.

PERHAPS AT THE Carson, Pirie, Scott store at the River Oaks shopping mall in suburban Calumet City, Ill. (where I lived at the time, and I wound up a few years later working at a Carson’s store at the now-defunct Lincoln Mall in suburban Matteson for a few months because my first news-related job paid miniscule-ly).

Not exactly an experience that taught me much, other than how enjoyable it was (and remains) to be able to write for a living about the people and places around me.

Here’s hoping Malia can figure out a more worthy experience for the upcoming year, or else that shouting noise we hear emanating from the White House in coming months may well be the presidential parents yelling at their eldest daughter to get off her lazy duff and do something with her life.

One final thought: I never expected Malia to be among the crew of students at a place like Chicago State University, but why didn’t any Chicago schools make it into her mix of considerations. It may have been good enough to employ Barack Obama at one point, but the University of Chicago (and Chicago in general) definitely feels like a place in the family’s past.


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