The opportunity to achieve dreams

College drop off for the first time is a rite of passage for parents and children this time of year. It is something I experienced almost 30 years ago as a student and something I experienced for the first time this week as a parent -- two vastly different experiences, but with many common emotions.

In 1993, as a student, I was anxious, curious, hopeful, and grateful. In 2021, as we dropped our oldest child at school, leaving them alone for the first extended period in their life, we drove away again anxious, curious, hopeful, and grateful. Does our child have the tools and skills to be on their own? Will they find their people? Will they come to know themselves and be the person God is calling them to be? We pray that we did our best as parents to arm them with the skills needed to be a happy and kind person with an understanding that they are known and loved by God.

We also drove away with a profound sense of gratitude. What an extraordinary opportunity to be prepared for and able to attend college, able to afford a time in life to focus on bettering oneself and expanding the mind. The ability to afford this for our child is not lost on us; this is an opportunity not afforded to every child in America and certainly not most children in the world. This is truly a gift.

Each year, there are tens of thousands of intelligent, capable students who never get a chance to even consider higher education. Their academic experiences are cut short in elementary or high school by lack of attention or resources. Studying for an exam is not a priority when you are worrying about how you are going to help your parents pay the rent or care for your siblings while mom is working to keep you fed and housed. Students like this are often lost in the shuffle and are not given the opportunity to achieve their full potential simply because of a lack of access to a quality education that sees them as a unique person.

So, along with gratitude, I am filled with affirmation that the work of Catholic schools has never been more important. The typical family served by the Catholic Schools Foundation is a family of four headed by a single parent with an average annual family income of $43,000. In a region where the average rent is $2,000 a month, these families are struggling. Despite this fact, 98 percent of CSF scholarship recipients are going on to college. These students are being given this opportunity to attend such institutions as Umass, Boston College, Georgetown, Notre Dame, and Northeastern (to name just a few) because they were given access to a high-quality Catholic education. They were given the support needed to thrive under the challenges presented to them.

As a parent, there is nothing more important than giving your children the opportunity to achieve their dreams. Some of us are blessed with having been born in the right place to a family with the resources to support our dreams and wishes. For others, the dreams for their children are no different, but they do not possess the means to provide those resources to their children. No child should be denied access to achieving their God-given ability because of circumstance.

As you watch children going off to school this year, walking by, packing up the car or hopping on the bus, remember that behind them are parents with dreams and hopes for those children. At the Catholic Schools Foundation, we are privileged to help support families in giving the life-changing opportunity of a Catholic education. We are also grateful to the benefactors who give life to the dreams of almost 4,000 families each year.

- Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation,