My sister-in-law, Jen, received her Bachelor's Degree last week. This might not seem like a big deal on the surface; a fairly large percentage of Americans have their Bachelor's Degree, after all. I mean, it's an accomplishment, but it's hardly unique.
There are so many things that make this exceptional in Jen's case.
On the surface, there is all the superficial stuff. Jen is approaching forty. It's harder to do most things as you get older, especially a task as daunting as a college degree, especially when you've been busy raising three children throughout your post-high school life.
In order to fully appreciate the significance of this, though, one needs to know Jen.
I don't want to embarrass her by listing her many and varied virtues here, so I guess we'll start with her humility. Jen would, quite literally, give the shirt off her back to a complete stranger, but she would choose to do so anonymously, if possible, because she wouldn't want anyone to know it was her and feel obligated to pay her back or say thank you or whatever.
Jen's children are, quite literally, her life. She is a loving and dedicated mother who takes great pride in her children (and rightfully so) but also great pleasure from them, which I think is missing in a large percentage of parents today.
She has developed a strong sense of spirituality, but she doesn't push her relationship with God down your throat. Instead she speaks of the serenity she has found through church, the significance of giving, how much easier it is to let it go than to hold a grudge.
The happiness Jen has brought to my brother, who's a bit of an odd duck, is indescribable. Mike is something of an acquired taste (said with love and for lack of a better way to put it), and very few people really "get" him; not only does Jen understand Mike's unique personality, she embraces it. Additionally, she brought my sweet nephew, Zachary, into the family along with her daughters (I had always wanted to be an auntie).
One would think that Jen would be content with her family, her church, and her friends. She has a good job and a good husband and good kids and good things going on.
It's not that those things weren't enough for her; rather, Jen knew that finishing her Bachelor's Degree would enhance her job, her marriage, her relationship with her children, and everything else in her life.
Because Jen, like many people, has a little issue with confidence. For her to take on something that she'd started and left undone petrified her, yet she took on the challenge. She decided that she was going to finish her Bachelor's Degree, and you know what?
How many people can, at nearly forty, say, "I tried to get my Bachelor's Degree several times but life got in the way, so it had to wait, but I worked really hard, made it a priority, and now I have a Bachelor's Degree"?
Most of the people I know that started but didn't finish college just lament that they put beer before books.
I am extremely proud of Jen for this accomplishment, but I am even more proud of her for the person she is, degree or no degree. She is my sister-in-law, my friend, a loving aunt to my girls (Gabrielle would be mistaken for a boy if she didn't get girly pink stuff from Auntie Jen), and one of the most kind and giving people I know.
Auntie Jen with Miss Gabrielle
All of this got me thinking about the concept of accomplishment, and how we all might define the word. Losing fifty pounds? Losing fifteen pounds? Getting a promotion at work? Paying for the order behind you at the Burger King drive through? Putting spare change in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmastime?
This direction of thought made me realize that part of why I am so very proud of Jennifer is that she, in her serene, loving way, knows that this is an accomplishment. She is appropriately proud and understands on some deeper level that this is going to add a spring to her step. She didn't need the degree, but she needed to finish what she started, and she did.
I can't think of the last accomplishment I had, besides giving birth to three amazing girls.
Well, I guess that's not exactly true. I've started walking using the "Map My Walk" app on my iPhone. Three weeks ago, I walked a mile on the high school in 19:07; two weeks ago, it was 18:13, and now it's in the fifteen minute range. I'm excited and proud, but it doesn't feel like an accomplishment.
But somehow I don't think shaving three minutes off a mile is the same degree of accomplishment as Jen's degree.
I have been doing a lot of work on myself, and I have come to the realization that I have zero confidence, that my self-esteem is in negative numbers, that I am so scarred by past events that I can't even think of accomplishments, can't even form a "bucket list". There are times that I feel surviving a day without crying, shaking, hyperventilating, or feeling nauseous.
Jen has said to me on more than one occasion, in her sweet way, that she feels less smart than everyone else in our family as most of us have graduate degrees, and there is even a PhD floating around (watching "Jeopardy" is pretty cutthroat when my whole family is together).
Jen, you have always been smart by virtue of your beautiful heart, your giving nature, your ready smile, your absolute willingness to help anybody and everybody. Now you have the college degree as icing.
I envy you, even as I am bursting with pride for who you are and what you've done.
I have two questions for those of you reading this ... (and please share in the comments ... you have to have a Google account to comment, but that's pretty easy)
1. In your opinion, what is your greatest accomplishment?
2. What are five things on your "bucket list"? (for those who don't know, a bucket list is a list of things you want to do before you die)
My answers to those two questions will be my post tomorrow.
Congratulations again to Jen. I am so proud of you, sweetheart, and I appreciate all the love and support that you've always shown but especially in the past few months when things have been so rough for me.
Love you <3 p="">3>