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It's Never Too Late To Follow Your Dreams

by Diane Leon

Diane receiving the 2002 Faculty of Arts and
Science Excellence AwardIn 1986 at age 41, I wanted to focus on what fulfilled me even if it meant less money. I quit my job and worked with children doing art. I called my mother to share my enthusiasm about my new goal only to hear, “What, return to school? What for? First you leave a good job and now this! Where do you think you are going at 41 years old? You never listen to me; you should have gone to college when you were 18, not now.” I hung up and was determined to make my goal come true.

I thought to myself, “I’ve been living on my own since I was 19, what does age have to do with it? I’m an artist, work, exhibit and sell. I can do this, too.” The decision to return to school was what I needed at 41, not when I was 18.

I contacted the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and applied for admission. When I thought about the entrance exams my heart raced. I told my husband, John, “I only want you and my mother to know what I’m doing. If I don’t get in, I don’t want to explain to friends and family.”

On a cold evening in January 1986 I sat in the first classroom I had been in since 1963. Everybody appeared younger, smarter, and professional. Most of the women looked as though they just left the office. They wore high heel black shoes, dark single breasted suits, clear nail polish, short or long hair pulled back. I overheard other women tell their story, “Oh, I left school five years ago, and now I want to complete my BA.” I felt like saying, “Five years ago? Give me a break. I’ve been out of school for twenty-three years.” I sat there in my blue jeans, orange turtleneck sweater and took a deep breath and tried to stay calm. As the instructor passed out the 70-minute Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension and the Math placement test, my hands shook as I held the #2 pencil.

After the exams, I waited for the mail each day. As I shuffled through the bills and magazines in a frantic way, I worried out loud. “How long does this take?” My nerves were on edge. My husband was behind me 100 percent. “Don’t worry," he told me, "I am sure you passed. You’ll do fine,” as I sat around biting my lip, legs crossed and tense. (John and I met at The Art Students League and are soul mates. He’s my best friend, as well as husband.)

On the other hand my mother said, “Well maybe they’re taking a long time because they let the people who passed know first.” I took a deep breath, and said, “Look, I’ve got to go” and hung up. I called NYU. “Hi, I’d like to know if someone fails the entrance exam can it be taken again?” While I was placed on hold, time seemed to stand still. I thought to myself, “This is ridiculous to get this crazy over a test.” Finally, the woman on the other end answered, “Yes, if someone fails you can take it again.” I sighed and felt some consolation.

The next day a large purple and white envelope arrived from NYU. I opened
it and held my breath and saw the first word, “Congratulations...” I passed. My life would never be the same again. I planned on a degree in art history.

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