Thursday, November 12, 2009

A mother's desperation - Please help my son!

Rob and I receive hundreds and hundreds of emails each week from people who are struggling to survive in this economic climate with their student loan debt. We speak often about their moving stories and pleas for help. When I first became involved as a volunteer for Rob's fantastic movement, I found myself quite overwhelmed by these messages. As I think I've mentioned in previous blog posts, there were many rough Saturdays. Here's how it went:

[Husband enters office and looks at Cryn]. Husband: Are you all right?
[Cryn turns away from computer screen].
Husband: What's wrong?
[Cryn begins to sob quietly]. Cryn: I am just heartbroken by these stories.

There are a million variations on that scene, and it makes me think that it's high time I buy some shares of Kleenex stock.  

While the initial shock I used to feel - when reading these stories about financial and emotional struggles - has now subsided, the sadness remains just as powerful as it did in the beginning. That's what makes Rob and me human, because we care. Moreover, we know that this problem has such enormous repercussions for the health of the society. Countless people have told me, "you and Rob are the only people who have listened to my story and seem to care. I thank you both for that. Keep up the good fight." (I always need a tissue handy when I read a line like that. Why are we the only ones who seem to care? That's the travesty).

At first, I only received emails from those who had been students themselves or presently enrolled as such. However, in the last few months I've noticed a distinct shift. Now more parents than ever are reaching out to me and asking for help. I've been taken aback by these messages. Indeed, these notes have had a profound effect upon me. Why? Because they are coming from a person who cares deeply about a son who can't get a job or daughter who just lost one - regardless of the scenario, they see their children struggling to survive as a result of their student loan debt. These parents express helplessness and are outraged by what's happening to their children. In discovering the Forgive Student Loan Debt Movement, they are realizing that the dreams of their children, along with millions of others, have been stolen. That doesn't sit well with parents who adore their kids. And it shouldn't. 

I wanted to share one such letter. A woman wrote to me a few days ago about her son's circumstances.

Here's a truncated version:

Dear Cryn:

I am writing you personally because I am not at all smart in the way Washington works . . . . But in all my reading of your work[s] and Robert's and many others [on Facebook], I know only that we -with Student loan debt - are getting the shaft. I say we because as a mother of one of those students I know full well it will be and is my problem as much as his. Every day reading your site I find one more thing that I have been so blind to. I just feel there are too many loop holes and unpublished facts. Too many under the table, off the record, your owe me a favor deals on Capitol Hill.

How do we hit them in the heart and make this a front page, you have been exposed sort of event? I am ready. You have seen my comments on your page. Probably given you a giggle now and then but C[ryn], I just can't go on myself anymore. My son is hurting so bad, Mentally, physically and his life at 26 has stopped being productive at all. He works in a job he hates, to make a payment on a degree that he loves, but has no hope at all of getting.

The employers turn him down now with the excuse that it's not the lack of experience, but now he has been out of school 2 years and they feel he has forgotten most of what he learned in the 4.5 years of college.

For God's sake when will he ever catch a break? I cry about this daily. I read your site every night hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel. But . . . I think the light has gone out. 


I can't help but think about a recent article I read by Michelle Obama. She talked about her children rushing off to their new school, and was struck by the fact that they don't stop to realize that they are growing up and will one day become women. It was touching introduction. But the theme of the piece was about the importance of education. When I thought of the way in which the First Lady painted such a positive picture of the importance of education, I'm couldn't finish the piece. For starters, I was too angry. I also thought about how much her cheerfulness (almost a naive optimism) contrasted with this mother's tone of desperation.

Furthermore, there are too many parents who feel the same desperation as this mother does. Like her, they are witnessing their children becoming increasingly more hopeless, and losing a sense of purpose in this society. All for what? A degree? The U.S., the so-called leading nation of the world, allows its educated people to become indentured servants to the likes of Sallie Mae or Nelnet? Really? Yes. Really.  

Thanks to an industry that has stolen the dreams of young people for its own interests (i.e., paying hefty sums of money to its shareholders, "diversifying" its business portfolios, and therefore seeing a spike in revenue, as Nelnet President, Jeff Noordhoek recently discussed here, etc., etc.), that bright future that these parents and their children had envisioned together, appears to be gone.

Call me a Pollyanna, but this "reality" doesn't seem right, and it sure as hell doesn't sound like a country that will be able to compete much longer at the global level in the 21st century.