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It's Never Too Late...To Follow Your Dreams
(Continued from 1)

I called everyone to share the good news. Most of my friends were thrilled, but my aunts wanted to know, “What is art history, and what type of degree is that? Is this going to get you a better job, more money or what?" All legitimate questions, but for me it wasn’t about making money. The creative process is what my life has always been about. Money does not define success. Returning to school at this stage was mainly to learn about subjects that have always fascinated me. But, learning how to manage time was another story.

Any social life I had over the next five years was put on hold while I was in school. Staying focused was crucial. Friends and family had to understand that this commitment was something very important to me. I needed to learn how to say no and not feel guilty.

I attended fall, spring and summer sessions. Classes were held on evenings or Saturday afternoons. I often looked out the window during a break and watched snow fall on Washington Square Park. Then before I knew it, summer had arrived and I was rushing across campus in my tank top, skirt and sandals. My life revolved around semesters.

The courses taken at New York University gave me personal experiences that will last a lifetime. My concentration in art history also included a full range of liberal arts courses such as writing, history, literature, sociology, anthropology, psychology, science and philosophy. Most of the topics were fascinating because it was new information. However, some of the courses made me understand life and others revealed the history of New York City.

For example, my first college class was psychology with Professor Arthur Schlansky. He has since passed away, but his words live with me. As I sat among my fellow classmates, Professor Schlansky asked us if we knew the secret of a happy life. All of us looked around, shrugged our shoulders, and shook our heads "no". Then he gave us his pithy, humorous analysis of life. “Life is like a deck of cards...we are all dealt our hand. The trick to being fulfilled in life is to never look over at the other person’s hand. Stop wishing you had what the other guy has. Instead make the best of what you were dealt and go for it.” As we laughed, I realized how right he was.

My science course conjured up childhood memories. Picking rocks in Central Park was always an adventure. On a cool, spring morning our class met with Professor Michael Rampino. As he explained how during the last ice age approximately 15,000 years ago ice sheets began to move over northern America, I walked over the remnants of boulders and studied striations in the rocks. My geology course made me see Central Park in a new way.

The most impressionable course was in the summer of 1991. My anthropology class had access to a very important discovery on the construction site of the Foley Square Federal building. Workers came across some 20,000 skeletal remains of free and enslaved African-Americans known as the “Negro Burial Ground” from 350 years ago. On a Saturday morning at 8 a.m. my class had special access to visit the site. I slowly walked down a narrow plank of wood that descended into the large excavation; I entered sacred space. Today some 400 hand-carved mahogany coffins and skeletal remains are on view to the public, but on that Saturday morning I took part in a historical event with my class at NYU.

The 120 credits were transforming and I have never looked at life quite the same again. I felt as though everything I learned was connected. It made me a whole person. It was now time to celebrate.

My mother and John attended the May graduation set in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, New York City. I sat in the hot May sun with fellow classmates and couldn’t believe the day had arrived. After the event, faculty and classmates were introduced to significant others and everyone had the same feeling, “ I thought I would never finish.” My mother told faculty, “Oh, I am so proud; I’ve always encouraged Diane to do anything she wanted to do.” I looked at John and just smiled. She was proud.

Getting an education made me see the world in a different way. It empowered me because I had control over my life. The best part now is giving back and encouraging others. I began teaching in 1995 at NYU in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, Paul McGhee Division. I completed my Master’s degree at NYU, Graduate School of Arts and Science in Humanities and Social Thought. I went from student to teacher.

Today, when I speak to my mother, she says, “I tell everyone about my daughter the artist and teacher. See what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it?” I reply, “And it doesn’t matter how old you are. I’m living proof it’s never too late to follow your dreams!”

Diane Leon is an artist, writer, adjunct assistant professor of arts and administrator at New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

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