There aren’t enough stretched pennies in the world to pay for Diamond’s college tuition.
When the bills come in, Kim prays and then writes a list of what can be paid and what can not. Rent is at the top of the must-be-paid list. Getting the sputtering transmission on the 12-year-old Ford Windstar repaired is not.
She doesn’t let Diamond take the senior pictures offered at Granby because the packages are too pricey. Months into her senior year, they are still making payments on Diamond’s $385 class ring while other seniors are already sporting their new jewelry.
Kim has begun calling Diamond her “expensive child.” Diamond tries not think about any of it too much. Her senior year, she joins the pep squad and dances around football games in a bright yellow comet mascot’s uniform, looking a lot like a life-size M&M candy. But her job as a cashier often conflicts with the games.
Her family’s financial situation has made it hard for Diamond to get too excited about college, though her counselor, Phyllis Patton, is confident that she’ll qualify for scholarships and grant money.
Diamond, who loves her math and science classes, talks about becoming an orthopedic surgeon. She wants a high-paying career, not a make-ends-meet job. She is getting B’s in AP biology and calculus, among the toughest math and science courses at Granby. She is poised and attentive while studying the electron transport chain and inverse derivatives.
Her focus sometimes prompts teasing from her less ambitious classmates. “What’d you get Diamond? 100?” one asks as test scores are issued in psychology class. But she can’t afford an SAT prep course and doesn’t crack 1500 (out of 2400) on the test. The world of transcripts and college essays is foreign to her.
When it comes to college applications, Patton often finds herself saying to Diamond: “Okay, so when are we going to get that done?”
Diamond reminds Patton of herself. “Because she’s first generation,” says Patton, a black woman from Norfolk who was also the first in her family to go to college.
Diamond applies to colleges almost at random. Miami seems like a nice place to her, so she sends an application to the University of Miami. Patton tells her the University of Mary Washington offers generous financial aid packages, so Diamond applies there. Her boyfriend, Mike Wortherly, 23, a bank teller she met at a dance competition, lives in Woodbridge, which is not too far from Richmond, so she fills out the forms for Virginia Commonwealth University.
She refuses to apply to Old Dominion University, the only college campus she’s set foot on, because it is too close to home. “If I didn’t pick up the phone,” she says, “my dad would just walk up there.”