Yale teaches alum art of being single mom

Noelle Celeste ’92’s Yale diploma was one of the reasons she chose to keep her child. Now, Celeste says, the education that accompanied her degree is helping raise her daughter.

Yale’s liberal arts education strives to equip graduates to take on many arenas of the post-graduate world — not only the profession they will choose. But it is unlikely that the framers of Yale’s educational philosophy could have guessed what Celeste believes to be one of the most important things Yale taught her: how to be a single mom.

“I am constantly looking for — people to rely on to help [me] raise [my] kid,” Celeste said. “At Yale, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I went in to meet people and enjoy learning, which is absolutely what being a single parent is about.”

After Yale, Celeste had found a job at a civil rights organization in the Big Apple and “fell in love with New York.” She found out she was pregnant when she was 27.

“I knew that the father was not someone who would be involved,” Celeste said. “I’ve always been pro-choice. And I’ve been pregnant before and didn’t have a child.”

But this time, Celeste said, when she went to Planned Parenthood the counselors challenged her to think seriously about keeping the child.

“I actually felt a lot of pressure,” Celeste said. “[The counselors asked,] ‘Are you sure you don’t want to have this kid? You have a degree, you could raise this child.'”

Celeste said her Yale diploma made her feel that she would always be able to support herself.

“As a Yale graduate what I appreciated was that I felt like I had a choice.” Celeste said. “People use that degree as shorthand.”

So Celeste moved back to her home state of Ohio to live with her sister, who became her daughter’s surrogate second parent.

But the role of Celeste’s Yale education in the decision to raise her child was only the beginning. Celeste said she draws on her experience at Yale in her day-to-day life of parenting.

For example, a few days ago, Celeste said, her four year-old daughter Josephine came home talking about “French fry kisses.”

Celeste’s first inclination was to demand, “Who did this? Who do you know?” she said. “But really all that’s important is, ‘What did you think about it?'”

She said Yale was the first place she learned not to jump to conclusions, but instead to look at the underlying issues of a problem. When people she knew from her home state of Ohio faced antagonism from members of the Afro-American Cultural Center because “they weren’t black enough,” her initial reaction was to say, “Oh, that’s bad.”

But, Celeste said, she came to ask instead, “Well, what is the issue? Do you feel like you’re not black enough, or do you wish you were more political?”

Celeste says office hours also had a valuable lesson to teach.

“In parenting, knowing [Josephine's] teacher and going in beyond just open house — was really important,” Celeste said. “They are really busy people and I want them to consider my daughter as more than just another kid.”

Celeste said her father always advised her to choose her classes because she liked the professor. She said the approach of choosing environments because she values the people applies to settings from daycare to grandparents.

“It’s true for everyone I choose for my child: godparents, members of my family I choose for her to spend the most time with,” Celeste said.

In terms of valuable pre-parenting course suggestions, Celeste says she still refers to the knowledge she picked up in a chance child psychology class she took at the behest of a girl friend.

And she still plays games she learned in The Purple Crayon improv troupe to make her daughter laugh.

“At the time, I thought exams were very important, and the senior thesis,” Celeste said. “It’s really the very small things.”

Comments