For Mother

Yinh and I are big fans of Patrick O’Shaughnessey’s Invest Like the Best podcast. One question he asks every guest, “What is the kindest thing anyone has ever done for you?”. Listen to the show enough and it’s impossible to not wonder how you would answer if you were in the hot seat. I think I know my answer.

In the fall of 1995, I visited Cornell’s campus. For years I had known about Cornell. For whatever reason, as I was growing up my mother always spoke of me going to Cornell. I don’t know why. It’s almost like Cornell was the last name of the immigration officer when she arrived in the U.S. and when she heard there was a college with the same name it meant destiny. Whatever the case, her dream became mine. So when I visited the campus I felt like it was already familiar.

I applied early decision to maximize my chance of getting in. My safety schools were Villanova (it was a popular destination for kids in my HS) and Rutgers, my state school. In reality, my strategy was Cornell or Rutgers. Dream school or good value. I got into both and here’s where the twist came. Rutgers offered me a full scholarship. And on the other side of the ledger, Cornell sent hard numbers of what this private education was going to cost. The price spread between my two choices shook me.

I picked Rutgers. I knew I could get some loans from Cornell but I also knew my mother was going to need to come up with about 10k per year. That felt impossible. Prioritizing education my whole life, I went to Catholic school for K-12. This was going to cost 2x and things were already super tight especially with my sister about to enter HS herself.

As the day to send my letter of intent approached, my mother simply couldn’t bear this decision. She called me in to say that she’d find a way to make it work. It was a rare opportunity. Jump. If there’s a will there’s a way basically. We agreed we’d split the costs (I never worked as many hours as I did during my college summers) and she treated getting grants like a full-time job. She was tireless in writing letters about financial hardship and calling the aid office. Her persistence was epic.

That was the kindest single thing anyone had ever done for me. Not because it was Cornell. Because this was an example of what she always did. Everything she ever did was to give my sister and me a shot (my sister would attend Cornell 4 years later).

In truth, I have a bigger example of her sacrifice. But it’s not a story I’ll tell. But if she’s reading this she’ll probably know.

5’2″ and a force of nature.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mama’s out there.

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