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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: After many years of part-time college classes squeezed in between working and parenting our children, finally at age 42, I have earned my bachelor's degree. I skipped the traditional graduation activities, such as the commencement exercise, but I did order announcements to send to close friends and relatives.

My husband said I shouldn't send announcements. He views them as bids for gifts, which he thinks are for 20-somethings just starting out in adult life.

Abby, I mailed the announcements anyway. Some people did respond with gifts, none of which were inappropriate or overly expensive. Others brought bottles of wine to our party to celebrate my accomplishment. However, I would still like to know if announcements for mature graduates are in poor taste. -- PROUD "OLDER" GRADUATE

DEAR GRADUATE: Announcements of accomplishments such as obtaining one's degree are not in poor taste. It's never too late to celebrate becoming the person you want to be. Just because it took you longer to get your degree than those who were fortunate enough to study full-time, no one should minimize your hard work.

Congratulations on your tenacity and your degree. You are a role model for your children and other adults.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 17-year-old high school student. Until I was 13, I did some modeling and my mother entered me in beauty pageants. I constantly worried about my appearance and considered myself ugly if I didn't win. At 13, I began what my mother called "the ugly years."

At my last pageant, the judge told me I was gaining some "chub" and needed to lose weight. After that, I became bulimic for a year. Fortunately, I realized what I was doing to myself and stopped bingeing and purging.

During the four years I have not competed in pageants, I've become happier and more self-confident. My mother recently told me that now that I'm through the "ugly" stage, it is time to begin modeling again.

Abby, I don't think I can do it. I never told my mother about my bulimia, and she refuses to listen to my reasons for not wanting to model. I don't want her to know about this disorder, especially since I am over it. What should I do? -- NO NEED TO SHOW OFF

DEAR NO NEED: Tell your mother exactly what her ambition cost you the first time around. It's time she stopped projecting her own ambitions on you. At 17, you are nearly an adult. Under no circumstances should you allow yourself to be pushed into a career that's potentially so damaging to your physical and emotional health.

DEAR ABBY: My brother-in-law's father recently passed away. We had met him several times, but were unable to travel to the funeral services.

My husband and I want to share our sympathies with the family, but we don't know to whom we should send our condolences -- my brother-in-law, his mother or both. What is proper in this situation? -- WONDERING IN WASHINGTON

DEAR WONDERING: Send an individual note of sympathy to each of them. While one letter might suffice, they are both grieving and would appreciate a personal message acknowledging their loss.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-660