To College We Will Go

BY TAMAR KEVONIAN

It’s that time of year again when thousands of high school Juniors travel around the country visiting college universities. It’s a right of Spring, along with Easter, and Memorial Day.

Alin returned from just such a trip to the East Coast recently. Next year she will be a Senior at a local, well regarded private high school. Two years ago, she sat aside and looked longingly as her brother did a similar trip. Now it was her turn.

Sipping our caffeine induced drinks on a recent warm evening; she was excited by all she had seen.

“Where did you go?” I asked, curious about the tour.

“Penn, Brown, Boston College, Northeastern,” she said, listing several well regarded universities.

“Which did you like best?” I asked.

“All the ones I can’t afford to go to,” she said with a shrug and a laugh.

“My Mom was asking why Alin was going?” added her father Shahe, “and I had to explain to her that kids have such a complex set of decisions to make when choosing a university.” It’s no longer a matter of finding the best university within driving distance of home, but rather a combination of which one provided the best education, the cost of tuition, weather – cold climate or hot –  the reputation of the department of their chosen field, the geography of the campus, the composition of the student body, etc.

“It’s not like in my time,” said Shahe.

“In what sense? The colleges haven’t changed.”

“I had just arrived in this country, someone suggested CSUN [California State University, Northridge] and I applied. But I had to wait until I became a resident because otherwise the tuition was too prohibitive and that’s all I could afford then,” he explained. “What the heck did I know? In Beirut it was AUB [American University of Beirut] or nothing.”

“In my time, the high school took us on tours of the local universities. No one ever talked about going out of the city, let alone back East for an education,” I added.

It is a well known reality that Armenian families do not encourage their children, particularly their daughters, to consider other options outside the half a dozen universities located in the Los Angeles or Orange Counties.

Last year, Nareg, a local and well regarded high school teacher, conducted an informal survey of Armenian high school seniors in both public schools and Armenian private schools in Los Angeles. When presenting the information, he expressed amazement at the responses he received. “They mostly considered the options of UCLA, USC or CSUN,” he said. Less than a handful considered any others, and even less than that listed Ivy League universities as options.

“Most said that their parents would never allow them to live on campus,” he added. In fact, Occidental College, nestled in the hills of Eagle Rock, right next door to Glendale, is hardly ever on anyone’s list, even thought it is a well regarded university, because of their requirement that all freshman students live on campus for the first year.

The funniest, or perhaps the saddest response, Nareg received was the young woman who wrote “If I go away to school, someone else might marry my future husband.” She was serious.

These are ideas adopted from the parents. Perhaps no parent actually advised a child to skimp on education because of the potential of missing out on their future mate, but the idea can be imparted in a myriad of other methods. The memory of my father being advised ‘not waste money on tuition to a top tiered school because it would wasted on a girl’ or being asked how was doing on my “M.R.S. degree” while attending college, is still fresh in my mind.

A significant portion of any education is not simply the information taught in a classroom but the friends and connections one makes during the process. A roommate who may become a high-ranking politician, a leader of industry, influential artist, or even well known celebrity is not uncommon.

As a growing and maturing community that is more and more involved in politics, business, and the arts, these associations are invaluable to the long term strength and viability of the community. Can we afford not to plan a generation ahead because of the archaic fears and traditions left over from years of being immigrants in foreign lands?

Alin’s brother is now a student at a prominent East Coast school and it seems she will follow in his footsteps. At least she’s considering it now. Luckily, she has no limitations placed on her by her father; her only limitation will be her imagination and her desire to succeed.

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