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Joan Wickett: Today’s young women have vast opportunities

One of the perks of old age is you can look back at your life with an accurate assessment of what you have accomplished. We like to accent our successes, families, careers, goals reached and what we will be leaving surviving generations. The problem with this is we may be tempted to look back and consider “the road not taken.” Would our life have been significantly different if we had made other choices in our youth?

I was born at the end of the Depression. My parents were never rich, but not poor. They were from a middle-class working generation. They never had the opportunity to attend college and, being the youngest of three girls, college was never a consideration for me either. I came from the era where women were expected to become secretaries or nurses, and then marry and retire to raise a family.

I attended a business high school and went on to a business career as a secretary. I eventually fell in love, married and began my family. Day care centers were unheard of and unless finances dictated otherwise, a woman would quit her job and settle down to become a housewife and mother. I, too, followed that pattern, raised my family and eventually returned to work for a second office career. Ultimately, this led to retirement.

I recently took advantage of an opportunity to monitor a college class. Rather sheepishly, I found myself among young people, all of whom were younger than my youngest grandchild. A very tolerant professor made me feel comfortable and even offered to read my submissions and grade my work. The students were accepting and didn’t mind my occasional dated comments.

My first impression was: Wow, these kids have it made! The subject was one I had had a lifetime interest in – detective fiction. I was exposed to the history of the subject as well as some authors I had not known before. It wasn’t until we got further into the class that I realized this was not all fun, and involved work.

I marveled at the stamina my fellow students must have. I was carrying only one class – most of them had four or more classes to balance. I observed the young students with interest and a bit of jealousy – especially the girls. They had numerous choices ahead of them for lifetime careers. I looked around and saw potential lawyers, doctors and CEOs of major organizations. I wondered if they appreciated just how far women’s choices had come.

I also felt a tang of sadness for the women in my generation who might have made significant contributions to society, if only they had been given the opportunity.

What I took away from this was an immense appreciation for college and advanced learning. College is available now to most students, even if it means taking on large student loans. It should be available to all, regardless of their economic background. Today’s young people do have many more opportunities than my generation, but with opportunities also come responsibilities. Theirs is the task of using this knowledge to better our world.

I don’t know how significantly different my life would have been if I had the opportunity of college. As I look back, I am happy with the choices I made and am thankful for the blessings of a happy marriage, great children and grandchildren. I do, however, appreciate the fact that my grandchildren will have choices that were not available to me.