Elin Nordegren, the ex-wife of Tiger Woods–the woman who famously chased the golfer down the street wielding a deadly golf club after learning about his long list of hooker and porn start mistresses–had a moment of media attention this week for something other than her tabloid-ridden marital disaster. According to Fox News, Ms. Nordegren graduated at the top of her class this week at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL with a 3.96 GPA.
It must have been a sweet personal triumph for the former model turned golfer’s wife, turned mother of two, turned golfer’s ex-wife. At last, it was time to celebrate a chapter of her life defined by something other than the humiliating behavior of her famous ex-husband.
During her valedictory speech, Nordegren nevertheless chose not to shy away from her past, and even took a veiled swipe at her former husband. The dramatic breakup of her marriage occurred, she said, “right after I had taken [a class in] communication and the media.” She added, “I probably should have taken more notes in that class,” provoking laughs from the audience.
I couldn’t help thinking, when I read this story, how strange it is for a woman worth hundreds of millions of dollars, with two children whom she certainly adores, with–in other words–a very full life, to still seek out a college degree. It’s not like she was searching for financial security.
What was it that she hoped to gain from college? Nordgeren reportedly took 9 years to graduate amid all the responsibilities and chaos of her life. This was, almost certainly for her, a project aimed at achieving some sense of personal accomplishment and fulfillment.
In this sense, Nordegren’s reason for going to college is not unlike the reason many young people go, and many parents insist that their children go. College, even more than it has become a gateway to financial opportunity, has become a very extensive and time consuming source of self esteem for millions.
Sure, at it’s best, we’d like to think that college is about expanding ones mind, learning to sharpen critical thinking skills, etc. But the sad truth is that many college graduates today know less than a high school graduate ought to know. And earning a college degree has become not so much a notable intellectual achievement as it is a baseline requirement for gaining social acceptance in today’s American middle class.
Unfortunately, the cost of social acceptance may prove far more burdensome for most American youth than it will for the fabulously wealthy Ms. Nordegren. For her, a couple of hundred grand is a drop in the bucket–and probably well worth the sense of personal achievement she must have felt while standing before her class at the latest Rollins College commencement ceremony.
And, ironically, even the financial opportunity promised by a college degree has become less a guarantee over the past decade as rising tuition costs have increased student debt levels to all time highs, and high unemployment rates have lowered the earnings prospects of many graduates.
College, in other words, may be the perfect avenue for Ms. Nordegren to reclaim her identity after the humiliations she has suffered. But for far too many young indebted graduates, college has become only the beginning of the humiliations they will experience as their job prospects fail to live up to their expectations or their academic qualifications.
Let me close by offering a hearty congratulations to Ms. Nordegren. May your future be as well lived as it is well heeled.
And to the rest of you grads out there facing tough employment prospects and mountains of college debt, I offer my sincerest condolences.
Nathan Harden is editor of The College Fix and author of the book SEX & GOD AT YALE: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad.
Follow Nathan on Twitter @NathanHarden