Doubt

Doubt

08/15

I’ve met some very smart people here in Lancaster who doubt whether a college degree is important.  They are not exactly anti-college, but their catchphrase is “college isn’t for everyone.”  Still, when it comes to poor communities vying for membership to this nation’s Decision-Making Club, rather than supporting them these people are dissuading them.  Instead of rallying behind poor communities’ young people to graduate from college and use their degrees as membership into this influential club, these people will talk about the amount of debt college students incur or share a story about a college graduate they know who is unemployed.  Their doubt reminds me of one my favorite scenes in an amazing play, coincidentally titled Doubt.

Some of you may not know the play, but they made it into a movie of the same name which you might be familiar with starring the illustrious Meryl Streep and the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman. There is a scene in the play that sticks with me.  One of the main characters, Father Brendan Flynn, is proselytizing about gossip.  In his explanation of gossip he asks a woman to go to the roof, split open a pillow, and return to him.  She does as she is told and reports back to Father Flynn that there are now feathers flying everywhere.  Father Flynn instructs her to go and retrieve every feather from the gutted pillow.  She protests this impossible task. The uncollected feathers, Father Flynn explains, are gossip.  It’s a great parable tucked into a great play.

Gossip feeds on half-truths and muddled facts.  Doubt feeds on similar stuff, eats away at the truth, and weakens one’s faith in things. If gossip is spread as easily as feathers in the breeze, facts and truths should be just as easily spread into a community. A recent article in the New York Times by David Leonhardt reported that an analysis of Labor Department statistics found that “Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree.”  This means a student from an impoverished background with a college degree will ultimately fly past the poverty threshold.  The facts about college and first-generation students are indeed feathers of truth that need to be spread.  This is what Attollo is about.  And getting these students into and through college is not just a feather in Attollo’s cap.  Their college success changes the outcomes for their communities, for Lancaster and for this country.  Attollo Scholars’ determination and grit tell us that the system can work.  I am reminded of a quote from Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali writer, educator, and the first non-European to win the Nobel prize in literature. “Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”  We have faith in these students and other Lancaster students like them.  Those who think “college is not for everyone” may not understand what this message does to first generation college students.  They cannot afford your doubt.