I was born and raised in working-class Philadelphia. Growing up I did not see myself as an underrepresented and repressed segment of society. Certainly I saw that there were those who had more money and material goods than I did, but it was not something I dwelled on. This was because everyone I knew was working class, and none of us had any more or any less than the next person.
In high school I forayed for the first time into the white-gloved world of privilege and prestige that loomed beyond my own. I was a very gifted and talented student and decided to apply to an elite college. My parents were dead-set against it. Not only did they fear that I would be summarily rejected due to my social class, they also had a future cut out for me in a secretarial pool because that was where all nice working-class girls ended up after high school. Undaunted, I applied to the college. I’ll never forget my interview. I sat down with the dean herself, who had asked to interview me because my grades were good. As soon as she took in the entire working-class package sitting before her, her attitude turned frosty, and it was instant dismiss. Needless to say, I received the rejection letter the following week.
I was accepted by a lesser-known two-year college, where I received my Associate’s degree, and as soon as I did, I wanted to take the next step and get my Bachelor’s. But my parents would not allow me to live under their roof while I furthered my education. College, they insisted, was a waste of time for anyone, but especially for a woman, and that I should have been grateful for the two years I had. A few decades passed, and when I was finally living under my own roof, I took the plunge and went back to school. In December of 2013 I will, after more than twenty years, finally earn my Bachelor of Arts.
School has thrust me into the upper-class world whether I want to be here or not. Every day I see the differences between myself and the privileged young people who surround me. What astounds me most of all is that many of them do not apply themselves to their studies as rigorously as I do. I couldn’t understand how these underachievers were going to prosper in the post-college world, but then it became clear to me. These kids don’t have to kill themselves to get good grades so that they could find jobs. After all, either their parents, or friends of their parents, will help them get cream-puff positions in Corporate America. They are in school only because they need a piece of paper that officially declares they have a brain. I, on the other hand, have no such connections. All I have to go on is the gray matter between my ears and my capacity for hard work.
I now live in an upper-class neighborhood close to school. This has also created culture shock. Most of the people have lived here their entire lives and don’t take kindly to outsiders, especially those from the wrong side of the tracks. Even though I am polite and well-educated, my blue collar somehow peeks through, as every so often when I go shopping at the local strip mall I’ll have a door slammed in my face or get a hostile stare from a stranger. However, my working-class upbringing has made me tough, and I ignore the disdain and move on. My attitude is that if you don’t like me, then deal with me, because I’m not going away.
Although my social class has disadvantaged me throughout my life, I am grateful for it. Only the strong survive in the working-class world, and it has been this strength that has enabled me to fly very high.