The above question comes my way often when I tell people where I teach and it is a loaded question, implying that whatever I say it will be too much money.
My family has always valued education and no price was too high; nevertheless, my parents did keep track of the cost. We were and are middle class people. My grandparents were all first-generation Americans – the children of immigrants – carpenters, masons, cobblers, and miners who came here for a better life; most of them unwelcomed because of their country of origin, but all came here for the promise that is America.
My mom and dad were the first in their families to attend college, and it was important to them that my brother and I received the best education they could afford and grow up to be professionals in our chosen fields. My brother and I worked through grade school, high school, and college, mostly working with our hands in retail or manual labor. While in college, during summer and holiday breaks, I would take every job I could find: from putting together push vacuums on an assembly line, sweeping up packing peanuts, and even cleaning the occasional toilet and scrubbing up industrial spills. After these school breaks that were filled with difficult and physical work, I knew that school was the right place for me. The physical demand of those jobs helped me realize that I wanted something different for a career.
When I graduated from college, my parents wrote me a canceled check for my education costs from pre-school through college. I had no idea how much my education had cost them. What I remember thinking when they handed me that check was not how much it cost to go to school but how much it was worth to go to MY schools. My parents spent so much on my education because they believed in me and my education meant as much to them as it did to me. I am still humbled by their sacrifice and support for me and my life and that’s part of the reason why I pay for my children’s education. That feeling is tangible.
What is a De Smet Jesuit education worth?
Community. Community fills us with pride. When we say, “We Are De Smet!” we mean that we are all part of this whole. I felt this as a student and this feeling made me want to return and help the next generations of students feel that pride of being part of a greater whole. When soccer wins a game, we win. When DURT wins a robotics competition, we win. When the newspaper wins an award, we win the award. When a student gets his art hung in the St. Louis Art Museum, our art is on display. When a struggling student earns a “B,” we all earn that “B.” That is not the cost of De Smet Jesuit, but this is what it is worth.
I’ve had students who worked part-time jobs to pay to go to school at De Smet. They earned their De Smet diploma and paid for their education themselves because they saw the inherent value of this institution. Their public schools are free, but they saw the worth of a De Smet Jesuit education and did whatever it took to be part of our community.
One young man was already halfway through his college career when he finally paid off his high school debt. On the day he paid the final installment on his loan, he brought his diploma up to my room to show me his achievement. He was proud of himself and I was proud of him too; not only had he earned the diploma, but he paid for it with his own work.
How much does it cost to go to De Smet Jesuit? It costs everything you have if you give yourself to the school. If you immerse yourself in our ideals and our expectations and our traditions, it will cost you everything. But you won’t find that cost on the spreadsheet budget, because when you give everything you get everything in return.