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Happy Birthday, Mr. Graduate
(Continued from 1)

I soon went to an open house and learned more about Columbia. It turned out I could start taking classes there even though I hadn’t completed all my general courses yet. Even better, because I had a family, I was eligible for Federal Pell Grants and financial aid from the State of Illinois, which meant not only could I attend this great college, I could pretty much attend for free. So I signed up and excitedly awaited the start of the next semester.

A month later I was the oldest, baldest, most enthusiastic student in the classroom. I was learning about marketing from real professionals who actually worked in Chicago’s prestigious advertising community. I felt like I convinced that nagging voice in my head that I could do this and that I wouldn’t be stuck in miserable, low paying jobs for the rest of my life. For once, the types of jobs I used to fantasize about seemed like they could soon become my reality.

Attending Columbia was exciting and totally fulfilling, I looked forward to school every week, even though I was usually exhausted from working my second job driving a cab at night and often struggled to stay awake in class. I learned a great deal about marketing, visited a local television studio and a major advertising agency, participated in several city events and most importantly, developed contacts with many seasoned advertising professionals who were very encouraging. Much to my surprise, a few offered to help me find a job after graduation.

I finally graduated at the age of 34 with honors and a 3.9 grade point average. It was a challenging six-year journey, but one that would change my life forever. My wife, my children and my father stood proudly and applauded when my name was called. My cap covering my bald spot, I joyfully walked across that stage in my silver gown to receive my degree. That day was a milestone in my life that I will never forget, I had never worked so hard or so long for anything in my life, and for once I actualy felt like I accomplished something.

Less than three months after I graduated, the head of Columbia’s public relations department helped me get my first job at a downtown Chicago advertising/pr agency on Michigan Avenue across the street from the Chicago Tribune. The first couple days were surreal, the excitement, the fast pace, the sounds and smells of the big city, it was all so exhilarating to me. There I was, writing articles and press releases for a living, meeting with reporters, having lunch with clients in renowned Chicago restaurants.

One night, while walking across the Michigan Avenue Bridge, I stopped and stared out at the evening sky as it hung over Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. It was the first time I stopped to reflect on how far I had come over the previous six years. I could have still been stacking air filters and spark plugs, but there I was, Mr. College Graduate, on my way home from a busy day at the ad agency.

Dave Oliver is a freelance writer from Aurora, Illinois specializing in business and marketing, family issues, and education. He has previously written for the Columbia Chronicle and has completed an anthology of short fiction. Dave is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago and is married with four children.

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