Left in Andover: Wiggle room for college grads

By Susan Leader
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

My grade school history textbooks featured scary descriptions of indentured servitude in early America. But in our times, bankruptcy protection is available and we no longer risk jail for non-payment of financial obligations.

Nevertheless, 43 million young Americans are hamstrung by a whopping one and a half trillion dollars in unpaid federal student loans. The average debt per person is $36,000.

This invisible handcuff hinders the ability of a whole generation to invest in home ownership and start families.

My hope is that Congress approves (a token) $10,000 per person federal college debt relief. It would be fitting to pass this legislation during the upcoming Shmita year.

The college-bound Leader children, with Susan far right, harvesting rye and exercising their agrarian roots in the 1970s.

Of course, the ancient biblical practice of Shmita would be downright revolutionary for our day. According to its precepts, debt was simply forgiven, offering the opportunity for those who had fallen short to begin anew.

I was raised on the mythology of my young dad setting off from Bennington in 1933 to attend City College in New York. Tuition cost was zero.

Even so it was a stretch. Dad couch-surfed with relatives, from the Bronx to lower Manhattan to Brooklyn.

He subsisted on 5-cent hot dogs from the Automat and shipped his laundry home to Vermont for his older sister to wash. But he graduated debt-free.

My mom had to drop out of a private college when her father lost his job during the Great Depression. She returned home and enrolled in a stenography program.

When I matriculated at Antioch College in 1969, tuition including room and board was under $10,000 per year. To put this in perspective, my parents had just purchased a huge Victorian house in downtown Northampton for $12,500 and reported yearly income of $9,000.

Almost all my college costs were covered by scholarships and on-campus employment.

Since that time, the average price of higher level education at a public school has jumped by an obscene 3,000 percent. Big name private colleges are now banks as much as schools.

Like most college students living on campus, I was always happy for the opportunity to enjoy a home-cooked meal. But the strangest one I ever attended featured a carrots-only menu.

I entered a second-floor studio apartment down in the village to discover my host hovering over a cooking pot cutting up the carrots — with his teeth. I did not linger for this curious tutorial in minimalism.

Even the most frugal of students nowadays is bound to incur higher food costs. But hopefully they would not be obliged to take out extravagant loans to cover this necessity.
Carrots are a good start when it comes to maintaining a modest budget. They’re cheap, nutritious and keep forever. Grated, they go undercover in just about any vegetarian main dish. My mother used to even sneak them into cookies.

The tastiest carrots I’ve ever had are over-wintered, straight out of the garden as the ground thaws. The reason I am not a bigger fan is that I grew up with bright red hair and was routinely asked if I ate a lot of them.

I not only survived college, but graduated with less than $1,000 in debt, allowing me the freedom to follow my bliss as a potter and play on the side with maintaining my family’s agricultural roots.

I only wish today’s young graduates had as much wiggle room.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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