By Ericka Carr |

“I got all A’s and one A-minus!” eight-year-old me shouted through the gap in my front teeth. My sister’s friend, Roberto, teased me relentlessly about my lisp as I waved my report card around the bus. When I got home, my dad probably gave me a high five, my mom a hug. My friends would’ve gotten an Xbox or 20 bucks.

A few years of straight A’s later, I finally built up the courage to ask my parents why my siblings and I weren’t rewarded for our nearly perfect grades.

“We expect it of you,” my mom said.

I enjoyed being the smartest kid in class too much to test my parents. Still, I debated purposely making bad grades so that my mom and dad would reward me for doing well in the future.

My dad told my brother, sister, and me that he’d buy us a $10,000 car if we got a full ride to college, so my sister and I began to picture ourselves driving off to college in matching black Pontiac Solstices. I know now that my dad would’ve pulled into the driveway in the exact opposite of what we pictured. Underneath the surface, he was hinting at something more important. One day he’d buy me a car, but my dad was not planning to pay my college tuition.

At Baylor University, that’s not exactly the norm. My friends can just text their parents if they want some extra cash. A girl in my Spanish class said she used her monthly allowance in two days. Monthly allowance? I came to college with the money I’d saved from working all year and whatever leftover loan money that was deposited into my account at the beginning of the semester. It’s hard for me to think about what it would be like to not worry about running out of money.

My dad warned me that I wasn’t going to be a “typical Baylor student” when I was finally bold enough to tell him that Baylor was my final choice. He kept urging me to take advantage of a fully funded education at the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor. At the time, I was angry. I knew that my parents’ pastor and teacher salaries couldn’t support my insanely high tuition. I knew what I was getting myself into. But really, I didn’t.

I look around at other students, and I’m jealous. I wish I could go on random $200 shopping sprees and take road trips to Austin whenever I wanted, but I’m also grateful that I can’t. I was young when I learned that I was preparing for what is now my quarter-of-a-million-dollar education. I thought it was because my parents couldn’t afford to send three kids to college on top of their own student loan debt, but it was more than that.

My parents gave me this responsibility to teach me. Throughout school, I worked twice as hard as any other student in my class. In sports, I ran faster, lifted more often, and gave more effort than any of my teammates. I ran for every office my school offered. I graduated second in my class with a near perfect GPA. Most importantly, I learned that the only way to achieve anything worthwhile is to work hard, and I worked so hard that I am able to attend one of the best and most expensive colleges in Texas with minimal debt.

My dad is right.

I’m not a typical Baylor student, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.