Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

06 Oct 2007, 1:51 a.m.

Investment In Education

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2007 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I was the best scorer on my high school's Academic Decathlon team in the spring of 1997. So the county gave me a USD$100 savings bond. I believe someone told me it would mature in five years. A hundred dollars! My teenage self was very pleased by the amount, although I'm guessing I ferociously underplayed the prize with the kind of false modesty that smothers one's own authentic satisfaction in accomplishment.

Sometime between 2003 and 2005, I ran across the bond in my files and went to a bank to get my hundred bucks. It would pay for a couple of phone bills, dinner, that sort of thing. The teller told me it wasn't mature yet - come back ten years from the issue date.

Yesterday I felt guilty for spending more than I'd expected on packages to Sarah in Mali and post-deliverable dinner with classmates. I figured cashing the savings bond would help me feel better about it, so I went to a nearby bank. The teller seemed confused, and told me they'd only give me about $75 for it; it sounded like she was saying that her bank wouldn't pay me the interest I'd earned, just the purchase price. That sounded wrong, so I went to another bank, one where I had an account.

The second teller told me I'd get $75, too. But it's a mature $100 ten-year bond, issued ten years ago! I said. The teller finally had me look in the corner of the certificate: "Series EE: Interest Ceases 30 Years From Issue Date."

After five seconds of wanting to obstinately wait till 2027 to get $25 more on the bond, I cashed it. I knew a lot of trivia when I was fifteen and tested well, ergo a central California county board of education paid to send some copies of Mad, Bitch, Games, and Atlantic Monthly to a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa and keep me in sushi and Chardonnay one Monday evening in the Upper West Side.

In my filing cabinet tonight sits an envelope, labelled "130 Year Savings Bonds", now half as full as it was yesterday morning. I got one of those Academic Decathlon highest-scorer prizes in 1998, too. I knew a lot of trivia. I had to stop watching "Jeopardy!" with my mom because just before Final Jeopardy! in every episode they'd play the "how to try out" message and she'd say I should go. Their tryouts were never in Stockton, and if I'd ever wanted to get driven to LA or San Francisco to try out my parents would have made it one of their Things and make a big deal out of it....I'm back-forming those excuses. I don't know why I never tried out.

In 1997, the first year that our high school had a Quiz Bowl team, I led it to third place in the region, beating a school that had won every year previous. The next year we won the regionals, again under my captaincy. I still have those shirts -- the 1997 one has held up remarkably well for a free custom-printed tee that I've worn regularly for ten years. Maybe it's held value better than that savings bond. It says "National Society of Black Engineers" on it, because the local branch of NSBE sponsored the tournament, and sometimes when I wear it people ask about my affiliation with NSBE. I generally say that I'm neither black nor an engineer nor a national society of any sort. One of those personal canards you get used to saying because it takes less effort than thinking up a new mediocre witticism each time.

Anyway, I knew a lot of trivia but somehow I didn't have the mindfulness to look at the maturity terms in the corners of those bonds sometime in the past ten years. I'm wondering whether to cash that other savings bond now or wait till 2028. It wouldn't really be about the money; it's not even worth calculating how infinitesimal 25 nominal dollars of interest would be over 21 years, even discounting inflation. It's worth more if I cash it now, even if you believe the US Government will still be good for this particular obligation when it matures. And if I cash it now I'm done with it and it's one fewer envelope in the filing cabinet.

But I kind of want to keep it. My niece Maggie will be young enough in 2028 that an unexpected gift of a hundred dollars might keep me safely at Cool Aunt status. And unlike nearly every other plaque, trophy, or gewgaw I got for winning school contests, this has dollars backing it. It's proof that my mindless, voracious appetite for factoids, sometimes substitutable for an education, was literally valued (passive voice deliberate; thinking of the whom will just depress me and enumerating the whom will bore you).

I don't garden; sometimes I think my strongest emotional commitments are to my marriage, my blog, and a few TiVo Season Passes. But if all it takes to grow this emotionally resonant little bugger is leaving it alone in a hanging folder, sure, I can leave it to mature all the way. And if it's blooming later than I thought it would, then it won't lack for company in this apartment.


06 Oct 2007, 13:36 p.m.

MC Masala! I missed you!