The 35-year Plan
Be a Glad Grad Anytime of Life!
A Joyful College Senior Looks Back
I had dreams. I was going to graduate from high school, go directly to my local state university, get a degree as a teacher within four years, and teach third grade for the rest of my adult life. Except I didn't. My dreams turned into night terrors when, in my senior year of high school, there was suddenly no hope of any financial aid, no support from my school to get help with scholarships (I was a straight A student, folks!), and because schools were closing up due to lower birth numbers, it was suggested that a teaching degree was a bad decision. No teaching third grade. No sharing "The Phantom Tollbooth" with a new generation. No guidance on how to make the perfect cursive letter "S." And I was REALLY GOOD at that cursive letter "S!"
This was just not fair.
The community college happened to be located next door to my high school, so on the advice (finally) of my guidance counselor, who finally decided that the 70's was the decade he would stop smoking pot and start doing his job properly, I walked slowly over to the admissions office.
"General Studies, dear" said the cigarette-smoking clerk behind the glass when I asked her what I should fill in as my major on the admissions form if I didn't know the answer. "But I don't want to study generals," I said! No, I didn't really say that (I was an A student, remember). I filled in all the paperwork, walked to financial aid, and was struck by another reality. Because I lived with my parents, who made a good living, I was not eligible for financial aid. How could this be? They were not paying one penny towards my college education, so why should their financial situation affect my future?
This was just not fair either.
Two years later, having paid 100% of my AA degree, I was struck by yet another college-plan asteroid, further derailing my plans to transfer to the state university I had always dreamed of attending. Details are best left for another time, except to say that it took another 20 years, with periodic stints at evening college classes, a marriage, child, a myriad of jobs, and an eventual realization that I was going to turn 43 and STILL not have my college degree!
This was even more unfair because my hair was becoming increasingly white, which was also not in my plan.
With my family's blessing, I quit work and became a full-time student at the university I always wanted to attend. I was older than all the other students. So what? I was older than most all of the teaching assistants in my classes. So what? I was meant to be here - during the daytime classes (which people said were the "real" classes...and that somehow the evening classes were easier, which wasn't true in my case).
I was the student all the young students hated. I sat in the front row. I had done all my homework, and read ahead so I would impress my teachers. I had years of experience with the public, in the work force, and as a document designer, so my papers were always beautifully designed and well-written. I had university sweatshirts and matching sneaker laces. I made sure my jeans had a hole in the knee so I would "fit in." Like that really worked! But I was FINALLY where I wanted to be, and I pretended I was just out of high school, which is how I always dreamed it would be. I was happier than ever!
In 2002, soon after my 45th birthday, it happened. I became a graduate of the University of Maryland with a degree in English. There was no happier student at that graduation, I can tell you. Sitting on the stage, I encouraged fellow graduates to tear paper up into small pieces so we could throw our makeshift "confetti" at the end of the ceremony. My friends in the audience knew it was me throwing that colorful handful in the air at the end. But what I knew about that handful of confetti was that it was really a lifetime of changes I never expected, desires I fought hard to fulfill, and a dream that was finally coming true. I was a college graduate with a whole new future to fulfill.
I wonder how long it will take if I go to graduate school?
ADDENDUM - 11 years after getting my degree: Still the proudest moment of my life. I did a little grad school, but was not "accepted" into the program. The "unofficial" reason was - get this - that someone younger than me would have a longer publishing history, so they had to make cuts in who to let into the program. I was seriously floored. It probably didn't help that I wrote my graduate entrance paper on Nixon's "Checkers Speech," since I applied to a liberal college (aren't they all - mostly?), but I decided to pursue a work career. BEST CHOICE EVER! I'm not 56, in a job I absolutely love, and have finally got the respect I have always longed for in the workplace. And my graduation picture still stands firmly on my bookcase - among my "college" books - a physical symbol and reminder to me of my accomplishment. True, it's a little dustier, and I never did put the diploma in the fancy frame I purchased, but nobody can take the feeling of satisfaction away from me. I did it.