Gabby Normal: The college talk | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Gabby Normal: The college talk

Columnist Gab Bonesso tried to talk her late mother out of sending her to college, and she’s glad it didn’t work.

click to enlarge Gab Bonesso’s senior picture
Gab Bonesso’s senior picture

The most awkward conversation I ever had with my mom was about college. What made it awkward was telling her I didn’t want to go. She didn't see it coming. After picking her jaw off the floor and some deep-breathing exercises, we had “the talk.”

I explained that it seemed silly taking out student loans to become an artist who might not make any money for the first 20 years of my career. Building my case, I mentioned Woody Allen and (hometown favorite) Michael Keaton dropping out of college but becoming successful sans degrees.

My mother couldn't fathom a student who had taken AP classes in high school skipping college. She tried a guilt trip; she and my father had not gone to college because they were “too busy raising kids.” I started crying, having a full-blown, manic anxiety attack. It was then my mom realized there was more to my fear of college than student-loan debt. 

I’ve always struggled with social and separation anxiety, the latter specifically from my mom. My first major depressive episode was as a high-school freshman at band camp, the first time I was ever away from mom for more than a night. I stopped eating, sleeping, and smiling. The band director was so concerned he actually called my parents.

To get me to college, my mom had to figure out a way make it work for me. I was unravelling. I couldn’t stand change. I couldn’t leave her. I really was not emotionally ready.

She decided I should go to Duquesne University because it was small, private, safe, and clean. (I was a really bad germaphobe when I was younger.) I could commute, which would alleviate the separation anxiety. The best part was that I could drive to campus without taking the highway. (I’m terrified of merging into ghost-cars). Other than extremely high tuition, Duquesne was the college for me — or so my mom was convinced.

Why are moms always right?

It really was the perfect school for me.

Naturally, there were challenges. Dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was a freshman and died during my junior year. But at Duquesne, I found theater and a community to help me work through the grief.

I also learned how to truly learn. From kindergarten through high school, I had memorized my way to success, learning absolutely nothing. As a Duquesne freshman, I was expected to read Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, and that is when I fully began to understand the importance of reading comprehension. You can’t just flip through the pages of that one, friends.

A lot changed for me while in college. I learned from diverse and brilliant professors who expanded my thinking and challenged me in ways I didn’t know were possible. I was given freedom to create original work and have it produced and performed — a wonderful benefit of going to a smaller school. I received mental health help, found my passion for performance, and truly began to develop my artistic voice.

My mom is no longer with me in the physical world. (You can imagine how bad my separation anxiety is these days.) Still, I thank her daily for making me go to college. Had she not, I wouldn’t be the experimental artist that we’ve all grown to love. 

I never say I love myself, so that last statement was huge. Therapy works!

To all you scared freshman moving onto a college campus, I promise you’ll be fine. If 18-year-old Daffy Duck Bonesso could make it through four years of college, you can do it, too.

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