The sun was just setting as I arrived at work on a Friday evening in August. I quickly threw on my green Baskin Robbins apron to assist my two coworkers.
"Can I have a double scoop of chocoloate mocha with butterscotch sauce, please?" I rang up the ice cream and handed an empty cup to LaDawna, our 24-year-old shift leader. Two scoops of chocolate mocha, a squirt of butterscotch sauce, and the customer's order was ready. After she left, our store experienced its usual evening downtime, with no customers for half an hour. LaDawna and I, close acquaintances since our first shift together, engaged in casual conversation.
With college applications looming, LaDawna asked me where I wanted to go to school. My short answer "Columbia" brought slight confusion to her face.
"Is that a good school?" she asked innocently.
"Yes, it's an excellent place," I responded, as LaDawna sighed with relief.
I realized that she wasn't familiar with Columbia, despite its close proximity and great reputation.
"Well, good luck, Tina. I wish I had the opportunity to attend college." Questions began to swirl in my mind. What did she mean? Why didn't she have the opportunity? There were plenty of colleges within twenty miles of our neighborhood. Why didn't she take the time to earn a degree? Her answers shocked me.
"My mother died of cancer when I was eight and my father abandoned us shortly afterwards. My brother and I lived in eight different foster homes by the time I was seventeen. I never had time to study. Heck, I never stayed in one place long enough to make friends." With a slight shrug and embarrassed smile, LaDawna stopped talking. For a few moments, we suffered in awkward silence. Despite our superficial friendship, I realized I didn't "know" her...