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Is There a Doctor in the House?

My mother was a real stickler for education. She insisted all six of her children graduate from high school. My father backed her up, but mainly my mother stayed on all of us about school. Fortunately for us, we all had the potential to excel in school (although some of us were happy if we just passed).

Except my younger sister. Unlike me, she loved going to school. When school was over and the rest of us couldn’t wait to escape outside to play with our friends, she could usually be found somewhere with “her head stuck in a book.” When she read, she’d become so engrossed in what she was reading that for her, the world around her ceased to be. She’d be so entranced, she never even realized when my brothers frequently stacked chairs into towers around her. Each time she stood up, the noise and motion of the crashing chairs would startle her so badly that my mother made my brothers stop before they made her (my sister) have a nervous breakdown.

My sister was the one who brought home A’s and B’s, (while my report cards were what my mother called patriotic; red ink for the semesters I failed, white report card and blue ink for the semesters I passed). It didn’t bother me—I hated school and did just enough to pass to the next grade. I even dropped out when I turned sixteen, but my mother was waiting for me when I got home and marched me right back the next morning, re enrolled me and told me “You WILL graduate from high school,” before she marched out of the principal’s office.

And she meant it too. When my brother failed two classes and had to go to summer school in his twelfth year, we were all surprised when my mother told him he didn’t have to go. His relief of not having to sweat it out in school the whole summer was short-lived when my mother informed him he was going to repeat his senior year saying, “You WILL walk across that stage!”

When my sister was selected to attend a high school for girls all across the city whose grades were super high, I have to give my mother credit. She never once held that over my head when she was taking me back to school the many times I got suspended for cutting class). Everyone in the family was praying I would just make it though high school, but we all assumed my sister would be the first in our family to graduate from college. (Surprising, I was the first one to do so, but that is another story).

My sister went to college and earned her bachelor’s degree. Over the years she went on to get a master’s and finally her Ph.D. It took a while for her to finish her dissertation, but today, I watched my sister walk across that stage and accept her Doctorate’s degree (in math of all things, can you believe it?). And as she walked across that stage, I remembered my mother (who’d dropped out of school to help out at home when her parents divorced), and how hard she worked to get all six of us through high school. I thought of my mother as I watched my sister walk across that stage and I sang out for all to hear, “Is there a doctor in the house?!”

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