Birthday, Mr. Graduate
By Dave Oliver
So there I was on my 28th birthday, alone, stocking
shelves in an auto parts store. I got more depressed
with each air filter I stacked. I had a dead-end job
that I hated, no money, and the future wasnt looking
any better. Happy birthday, loser.
I often fantasized
about having a real job in
advertising or journalism, a job where I could actually
make a living and find personal fulfillment. However,
those types of jobs almost always
require a college degree, something I didnt have.
I considered going back to school numerous times but
usually talked myself out of it. Some of my most convincing
excuses were, its too expensive, a
degree doesnt guarantee a better job, and
it will take too long. I once told a friend
who was encouraging me to go back to school that Ill
be 28 by the time I graduate, and way too old to start
a new career. So there I was at 28, recently married,
and still stacking cases of antifreeze for eight dollars
The Beatles song Im a loser played
non-stop in my head that night. The urge to go back
to school felt stronger than it had in a long time.
The next day, before I could talk myself out of it,
I signed up for an English class at my local community
college. My life would never be the same.
I sat down at my uncomfortable little desk and a short
time later it was as if somebody plugged me into an
electrical outlet. My passions kicked into overdrive,
ideas started flowing, I was writing political essays,
receiving praise and encouragement from the instructor,
and just enjoying the classroom enviroment. The experience
was an escape from the desperation I felt at my dead-end
job. I finished the class with an 'A' and a renewed
sense of my abilities - that class turned out to be
a much-needed shot of self esteem. After getting a taste,
I had to keep going. I was totally psyched and felt
like nothing could stand in my way. However, not everyone
in my family shared my enthusiasm.
My wife remarked in frustration that I was wasting
my time and would never finish. A family friend told
me I was being selfish and wasting money that my family
desperately needed on school and that I should get a
second job instead. I compromised, got a second job,
took another class the following quarter and just kept
going, three credit hours at a time.
I soon realized that if I was going to finish school
before I was a senior citizen I needed to take more
than one class per quarter. This became difficult as
my work schedule often conflicted with the school schedule.
The Internet was just catching on so there were no classes
online at that point, but my college did offer telecourses,
which turned out to be the perfect solution to my scheduling
conflicts. These courses were structured the same as
the as the classroom versions but instead of attending
class, students watched a video, read the textbook and
took tests every couple weeks. Taking these classes
helped me to build up credits more quickly. After about
a year, I met with a campus advisor hoping she could
help me figure out exactly what I was doing and why.
After I briefly described the types of careers I was
interested in and that I had a family to support and
couldnt transfer out of state, the advisor handed
me a brochure for Columbia
College Chicagos Marketing Communications
program. It was perfect, the exact degree I was looking
for and at a respected school close to home. She even
gave me a worksheet that showed how many credits I needed
and what classes I had to take to transfer there. It
was like someone handed me a road map after I had been
driving around lost for hours. I could now see some
light at the end of the tunnel.