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Elizabeth SolazzoEducation Opens Doors

by Elizabeth Solazzo

No single action can change a woman’s life for the better more than gaining a college education. Education is of benefit to everyone but is especially important for women to help level the playing field and open doors they often find closed to them without a degree. It took me many years to learn that hard lesson but as soon as I returned to school I begin to immediately see the positive changes in my life. Colleges are making it easier than ever on the adult learner as more older students return to school each year.

I made the fateful decision to go to college when I was at somewhat of a crossroads in my life. My children were growing up and I knew it was time for me to get a career instead of just another job. I faced the tough fact that I needed more education to achieve that goal. It was finally time to do something with my life beyond marriage and motherhood and I couldn‘t deny it anymore.

Upon reflection I realized that perhaps I had partially hidden from the world behind my family life. I had used my mothering responsibilities to protect me from having to search out what I really wanted in life. That had been easy enough since I had been pregnant at 15 and married with a second baby on the way by the time I was 19. What was there to decide?

I know today it is quite common for young girls to get pregnant and remain in school, but in 1972 in my part of the world that was not an option. Needless to say, I missed the teenaged college experience. At some point I did finish my general equivalency test for high school completion. But it wasn’t until much later that I returned to school at age 33. Attending school opened many opportunities to me that I had not even dreamed of at the time I made the decision to takes some classes. In the beginning I wasn’t even sure what I would study. It was a big enough step just to go.

I chose my local community college to start. I have never been so terrified in my life as I was on that first day I went back to school. I remember literally shaking as I searched for classroom numbers matching those printed on my schedule. But community college is a very kind place for an older student to start and someone soon directed this lost looking mother to the correct classroom. Mostly young students filled the school but I found comfort in seeing a few older students too. That older population continues to increase at most colleges nationwide and is even being courted by schools who have figured out how hard the older student will work to succeed.

Although it was a struggle, I immediately experienced success in my classes. I was a much better student than I remembered being when younger. That helped me build the confidence I needed to continue doing well. Before my first semester was over, I began working at the community college where I was attending school, first as a work study student, then later in a permanent secretarial position. This was the best job I had ever held due to my lack of education and training. Learning made me feel like a long neglected flower someone had finally remembered to water. I was quickly promoted after I completed my AAS degree with Alamance Community College and encouraged to continue to pursue higher education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. While working on my BS I continued to amaze myself. Who knew I could be such a smart cookie?

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