THERE are two decals from fancy schools on the rear window of the aging family Volvo. Together they cost some $250,000. Now the teen-ager who went off to a leafy college four years ago is all grown up with a bachelor's degree, which makes her eligible to join the scramble for a minimum wage job.
Daniella and thousands like her are victims of a terrible hangover from the giddy junk bond days of Ronald Reagan, which left the country $4 trillion in debt and the economy in shock. America has gone from the decade of greed to the decade of need.
She and her fellow grads are being punished further by the inflation paranoia of Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, who's more interested in protecting Wall Street than in helping Main Street.
But, hey, was it worth a quarter of a million dollars? You bet. Every penny. And that's not the end of it. There's grad school, of course. Another $50,000 or so.
Daniella's is a universe of color and sound. In four joyous years, the young lady who left home for a college her parents couldn't afford learned to see the world through the eyes of Monet and Seurat and to hear the world though the glorious soul of Beethoven, courtesy of a CD ROM. She still, however, favors Jimmy Buffett over Ludwig von Beethoven.
But it wasn't all academics. As an athlete-scholar, Daniella coxed eight lanky oarsmen and a sleek Vespoli shell to numerous national championships and won a slew of other medals and awards along the way.
Two years in succession she won the Connecticut College Lehman Award, given to the student who best exemplifies the ideals and spirit of the college's rowing program. And this year she won the MVP award.
In cyberspace she's known as "the cox," and she's made countless friends around the world over the E-mail circuitry in her dorm room.
Two years ago, Daniella voted for president for the first time and came up with a winner, although now she and others of her generation are not so sure. She's pro-choice, favors capital punishment, is strong on women's rights (but deplores strident feminism), wants programs to eradicate AIDS and -- are you ready for this? -- subscribes to political correctness.
But now Daniella's gone from the college cocoon and the Friday night keg parties and boathouse docks, and the world is waiting in real time. Check it out. It's not a very pretty place right now.
Nelson Mandela is promising electricity and running water to millions of impoverished black South Africans who recently were allowed to vote for the first time even though they're the majority in a vast nation that had been dominated by apartheid.
The slaughterhouses of Sarajevo, Somalia and Rwanda are systematically exterminating hundreds of thousands of people. Even the Yemenites are at it again; so are the Crimeans. Haiti's a mess.
At home, a nation that once prided itself on assimilation is caught up in the wave of nationalism and the assertion of ethnicity. Every ethnic group, it seems, wants to have its own identity, go its own way -- as long as the government pays the bills.
So the good news, Daniella, is that you're young and you've had the best education money can buy. Now the learning and the VTC search for wisdom begin as the building blocks start fitting into place.
Hang on to that spirited optimism and that 50,000 kilowatt smile and you'll be OK. A lot of what's ailing the world will go away. A lot will get worse, too. So enjoy the world while it's still around.
And don't forget to call home.
Frank A. DeFilippo writes about Maryland politics from Owings Mills.