Yesterday Elysha and I spoke about storytelling, creativity, writing, and more to students on the campus of Yale University. Later, I performed at The Schubert, a large and beautiful theater adjacent to the campus.
In the last couple years, I've spent a lot of time at Yale.
For each of the last three years, I've joined Catherine Burns of The Moth in the teaching of storytelling as part of an annual conference called The Thread.
In the past two years, I've delivered lectures to Yale faculty and Yale students.
I've taught storytelling to post-doc student in Yale's School of Psychiatry, and we've cast some of those students in our shows.
Walking the campus of Yale is always an emotional experience for me. After graduating from Manchester Community College in 1994, I was offered a full scholarship to Yale, which I turned down. I was managing a McDonald's restaurant in Hartford at the time, working more than 40 hours a week to support myself through school. McDonald's allowed me to make my own schedule each week, and that would continue to be important as I moved on from community college to my next school.
Regardless of where I went, I would still need to work at least full time in order to make ends meet. I didn't think I could find an employer as flexible as the McDonald's where I was working, and I couldn't imagine driving the 45 minutes from New Haven to Hartford every day to squeeze in work and classes.
My plan was also to earn both an English degree and a teaching degree simultaneously, and Yale couldn't offer me that.
Trinity College had also offered me a full scholarship, and as a part of a Hartford consortium, I could earn my English degree at Trinity and my teaching degree at St. Joseph's Univerity. I would be exploiting the loophole that allowed students to take classes at consortium schools by attending another school full time and earning a degree from that school (and an all women's school), but it worked.
I still don't know how I managed to work full time at McDonald's, part-time in Trinity's Writing Center, and attend both schools simultaneously, but after being homeless, hopeless, hungry, and facing prison for something I didn't do, hard work seemed like a blessing.
Still, I had a chance to attend Yale. I passed up a chance to graduate from an Ivy League school. I could've walked those hallowed halls and studied in one of the great universities of the world. I still have the letter - unsolicited - that I received from Yale officials inviting me to attend their school on a full scholarship. I look at it from time to time and wonder what might have been.
I don't regret the decision to stay in Hartford and attend Trinity College and St. Joseph's University. My plan worked. I received my English degree and my education degree. I learned how to write, and I learned how to teach. I was hired to teach at Wolcott School in West Hartford, CT after graduating, and this is where I am still teaching today. I met Elysha and many of my closest and dearest friends within the brick walls of that school, and 20 years later, I still love my job.
The opportunities to speak and work at Yale over these past couple years have been exciting. I've stood at the front of classrooms where I could have once been a student. I walk through stone arches and down cobblestone paths that I could've been my home long ago.
There are very few things in life that I regret, and passing on an opportunity to attend Yale is not one of them.
But I often wonder what could have been had my life been different. Had I not needed to support myself. Had Yale found a way for me to earn the degrees that I sought. Had I enjoyed a little more support in my life at the time.
I think I would've enjoyed attending that school. I like to think I would've done well.