The Two That Got Away

Photo credit: Mark Hillary, CC BY 2.0.

When I was facilitating a workshop at a women’s homeless shelter fifteen years ago, I gave my class participants an interesting assignment. “If you could do or be anything in the world, without any barriers, what would your life be like?” It was a simple question, but it opened a world of possibilities for the women. One lady raised horses, another lived in a beautiful house in Seattle, others had successful businesses, and some took the lessons that they had learned to help others. As they talked, I wrote down their dreams. The room was filled with smiles and laughter. On the following Saturday, I gave everyone a written copy of their dream. “Now that it is in black and white, all you have left is to do it.” Sometimes I wonder if any of those women realized any part of their dream. I would like to think that maybe one of them held on to that paper and it helped them to move forward in their life.

As I look at my own life, I ask myself the same question. If I won the lottery, or somehow received a large sum of money, and could do anything that I wanted, what would I do? The unequivocal answer would be to go back to school, after paying off my current student loan. Even though I have two degrees, there were another two degrees that I never completed. In 1982, I attended the Duquesne University School of Law night school with the dream of becoming either an entertainment or property lawyer. After the stress of holding down a full-time job and going to law school full time, I knew after the first semester that I couldn’t do both. There was no way that I could bring my C average up to a B average on the schedule that I was required to keep. My day began at 4 a.m., when I got up to study for an hour. I got to work at 7 a.m. and worked until 4 p.m. Then, I drove the 30 miles from Washington, Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh. If rush-hour traffic wasn’t too bad, I might have a few minutes to go to the library before the start of my three-hour class at 6 p.m. After class, I studied in the library until 10:30 p.m, stopped at the 24-hour grocery store to get dinner, and went home to study until I fell asleep at midnight.

But where would I be now if I had gotten that Juris Doctor degree? According to, the average salary in 2018 for an attorney in California is $92,335. But in Pittsburgh, the average pay for an attorney is $25.06 an hour, less than my current rate as a social worker. If I went back to law school now, I would want to go to a full-time, two-year program, instead of a three-year part-time program like the one I went to in Pittsburgh. But I don’t really want to practice law in my sixties. Maybe I could be a legal researcher. I definitely wouldn’t go back to Pennsylvania to be an attorney.

After my first trip to London in 1985, I wanted to return as soon as possible. I applied to the London School of Economics for entry into their Masters of Social Work program. I worked hard on my personal statement, reaching back to recollect everything that I learned about the Elizabethan Poor Laws in the seventies. It must have worked, as I was accepted in the program in 1986. I was even offered some financial aid with tuition, but not any help with expenses for living in London. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to go, and I have always wondered how my life would have changed had I spent two years living in London.

If I had a master’s degree in my current job, I would earn $10,000 more each year. That’s a lot of money, but not as much as it would cost to go to school in London. If I decided to get my JD degree, I could remain in California — but my MSW would have to come from LSE. If money were no object, I would go to London and get a nice little flat in Victoria, near the Station.

And if I were still lucid and literate after the four years spent pursuing those degrees, I would realize my ultimate teenage SAT dream — a PhD. I could get a PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Southern California. One year at USC at the graduate level costs $27,660 (15–18 units) and I would need 64 units to graduate, so I could spend my septuagenarian years in Southern California. Maybe I could be a legal or social work consultant on the side.

Afterwards, I would spend the rest of my days resting on my laurels, giving the occasional lecture to students curious to hear what this little old writer/social worker/lawyer would have to say to them.

But it’s highly unlikely that I will ever have the funds or the stamina to embark on any long-term educational adventures. In my sixties and seventies (and beyond), I hope to be able to travel and afford Road Scholar excursions. Still, like I told my students, it never hurts to dream. “Now that it is in black and white, all you have left is to do it.”

Beatrice M. Hogg is a coal-miner’s daughter and freelance writer who was raised in Western Pennsylvania and has lived in Northern California for twenty-five years, where she wrote her novel, Three Chords One Song, and continues to write about music and life in general.

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