Editor’s note: Odie Pahl, 69, of Wadsworth, Illinois, is the recipient of a Wish of a Lifetime award from AARP. Her wish was to write a personal essay for publication. She has been a board member for the Gurnee (Illinois) School District 56 for nine years, is president of the special education district of Lake County, Illinois, and is a member of the state’s School Board Association. The following is her submission.
Yes, it sounds like I am a little full of myself with this headline. The letters I use with my name are not grammatically correct, nor do they represent an actual doctorate in anything. However, if you read further, I hope to explain where I am going with all of that.
The dictionary defines “wise” as “having or showing experience, knowledge, and good judgment or discernment.” That does not mean a wise person has a degree, and so far it describes me well. I am a lifelong learner and a social observer, and I have had the experience of many, many decades on this planet. “Wise Woman” is not just hype or a delusion of grandeur.
My PHD is earned by a lifetime of studying people through experience, learning, and discerning life’s situations. Please do not think I have made only wise decisions, or even smart ones. Through the test of time, I have garnered, by word and deed, a sense of insight and understanding. Our human foibles are very real, and we need to work through those flaws and weaknesses and not just let them ride or cover them up. I want to be part of those solutions.
Instead of the usual meaning of Ph.D., my PHD stands for personal human discernment. I could never continue my education to the doctorate level. I do not have the financial means or time to earn it. I am still paying off student loans from my bachelor’s degree and some parent loans. I am not famous or wealthy enough to receive an honorary degree. I could not give a speech in front of graduates without having a nervous breakdown.
My gift is the written word, and I am so grateful for this blessing in my life. I listen to and watch people. I try to understand motivations and the defense mechanisms we use to get through the day. Then, with my writing, I share what I have learned in a relatable way. I hope to bring us together instead of pushing us apart.