Paper: New York Times, The (NY)
Title: Angela Whitiker's Climb
Date: June 12, 2005
Angela Whitiker arrived early and rain-soaked at a suburban school building with a carton of sugar water in
her purse and a squall in her stomach. It was the small hours of the morning, when the parking lot was
empty and the street lights were still on. There she was alone in the darkness for the biggest test of her life.
If she passed, she could shed the last layer of her former self -- the teenage girl who grew up too fast,
dropped out in the 10th grade, and landed aimless and on public assistance with five children by nearly as
She would finally be the registered nurse she had been striving toward for years. She could get a car that
wouldn't break down in the middle of the Dan Ryan Expressway. She could get an A.T.M. card and balance
her checkbook and start paying down her bills and save up for that two-story colonial on Greenwood that
was already hers in her dreams.
She would never again have to live in that gang-run nightmare of a place, the Robert Taylor housing projects
-- where she packed a .38 for protection -- or in Section 8 housing or in any government-subsidized
anything. Her children could be proud of her and go on to make something of themselves too, once she
proved it could be done.
But if she didn't pass.
She couldn't think about that. And so, as she would often tell the story later, she got up before dawn and
made herself some oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg and toast and got to the testing site for the state licensing
boards for registered nurses two hours before the test began.
She had never been good at tests. All through nursing school, she agonized the night before an exam,
overstudying the charts and graphs, termites dropping from the ceiling onto her physiology books, mice
crawling at her feet, and her children tugging her leg to find out what was for dinner.
She had only recently become the first woman in her family with a college degree and, if everything went
well this day, would be the first nurse anybody in her family knew personally.
So, she left long before she needed to that morning to avoid traffic, a missed turn, not enough gas. Once
there, she sat parked in the rain trying to compose herself. She pulled out her Bible to read the 91st Psalm,
the one about the Lord being her refuge. She broke out the sugar water to get glucose to the brain.
In the hallway, she avoided looking anyone in the eye. She spoke to no one. She didn't want to pick up on
anyone's anxiety. She had enough of her own. She took a last drag on a Newport.
The testing room began to fill. The examiner checked her identification and assigned her computer No. 12.
She drew in another deep breath as she walked to her place. She was about to sit down to take a $256
pass-or-fail entrance exam into the American middle class.
For most of her 38 years, Angela Whitiker has been on the outside looking in at the seeming perfection of