Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Mothers in Honors

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Mothers in Honors

Article excerpt

The University of Maine's 2012 valedictorian, honors student Rachel Binder-Hathaway, gave her graduation speech via Skype last May as she had already begun a yearlong Fulbright Scholarship in Bangladesh. Rachel was putting to use her business and economics degrees, traveling to numerous villages in an effort to determine various best practices in micro-finance while also isolating ineffective program elements. She intended to help Bangladeshi women grow their own successful small businesses and thus work their way out of relentless and abject poverty. Rachel is committed to assisting these women, who would otherwise have few opportunities outside the home, to create sustainable work for themselves and, in so doing, finally achieve their full potential.

The goal of fully achieving one's potential is likewise central to our UMaine honors college mission, and Rachel represents an ideal, wholly evolved honors student who not only has excelled academically but has developed a keen sense of herself as a global citizen and an agent for change. Rachel was also somewhat on the margins in honors, though, as the single mother of a terrific young teenager, Jacob, who has travelled far and wide with her--to Bangladesh, India, and the UMaine Honors Center. Motherhood can make a student exceptionally motivated but can also situate her as nontraditional in honors. We will consider the implications of this nontraditional status for three mothers and suggest how honors colleges might better integrate dedicated student mothers into their programs.

Rachel originally left college to launch a career as a professional jazz singer in New York. When she became a mother, her priorities changed, and she returned to school to triple major in finance, accounting and financial economics, graduating with high honors.


I have always thrilled to the idea of realizing my full potential. As such, I had many academic and personal goals in mind as I worked toward fulfilling my long-anticipated collegiate dreams.

Among my objectives was the pursuit of greater knowledge simply to fulfill my love of learning, and the honors curriculum was a huge part of this quest. Honors provided a fuller, richer experience that heightened my overall academic experience, moving me beyond the number-crunching and economics-based learning I gained in the colleges of business and economics. I viewed the honors curriculum as a chance to enhance my current aptitudes and to discover new ones.

However, there is much more to my story than this. Beyond my love of learning there stood a unique reason for seeking an education. He is a thirteen-year-old boy with curly brown hair and a charming disposition. My long- and short-term parental goals center on providing the best life possible for my son, Jacob. My responsibility and even more my joy is to see that he has a stable home life, a strong education, a safe community environment, and a happy childhood. I realized that if I was to see these goals to fruition, I needed to excel within the university environment, thus providing (I surmised) the upward trajectory we needed to create a bright and secure future.

I have always been a motivated individual, but motherhood shifted my focus away from personal wants and needs. My priorities now revolved around the needs of my son, and, because I was a single parent, this need to provide was heightened dramatically. My path has not always been easy, yet I am glad to have walked a few miles in these shoes, thus opening my eyes to the plight of mothers everywhere, especially those who struggle to provide for their families with little hope of realizing their aspirations for a better life. I carry them with me.

With this maternal (or paternal) instinct comes a sense of focus and determination. I believe this unique perspective lends itself to academic success. As mothers, we do not just like the idea of succeeding but need to succeed. …

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