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And then it was over. On December 19, 2013 I drove to campus, crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge with the windows rolled down, the wind whipping my hair, the tears rolling freely. It was my last day at Sarah Lawrence, and I was wholly unprepared for the unrestrained emotions of finally “making it,” of being the first in a family of 12 and an extended family of hundreds of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews to receive a college degree. I was bursting out of my chrysalis and getting ready to fly.
I stopped into the office of my mentor, Bill Shullenberger, a 70-something professor of literature and a brilliant Christian; he graced my family’s sukkah table last year. We hugged; I cried; we reminisced. I remembered the first time I walked into that office, in the spring of 2011, to inquire about taking his literature lecture course. I felt an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. There was another young student present in the room, a walking encyclopedia who clearly knew more than I did about Homer and epic literature. I later apologized profusely to Bill, explained my sheltered upbringing and divulged more personal information in one sitting than I should have — a habit that became my coping mechanism. Sitting there on that same spot two years later, in jeans and uncovered hair, I experienced a rare epiphanic moment: The insecure woman who sat here two years ago no longer existed. In her place was a confident woman whose lack of an academic background and whose childhood spent isolated from the world no longer defined her.
It was, perhaps, the first time in my life that I experienced real pride in myself.
I am immensely grateful for having had this opportunity to get an education beyond what was preordained for me as a little Kiryas Joel girl. I am fortunate to have a supportive husband and friends, unlike others who had to struggle alone through this difficult journey to college from a rudimentary education.
And I am grateful for having asked that question and discovering the controversy about anti-Semitism in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” Asking questions is how you learn.
Frimet Goldberger is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker for the Forward and other outlets.