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Caroline ReederSecond Chance

by Caroline Reeder

“Here are your tests back,” my professor sighed. “I’m pretty disappointed. Most of you did poorly, although we did have a 95...”

Ugh, here we go again. Suddenly high school flashes before my eyes--bad grades, failed efforts, humiliation--all culminating with me giving
up and dropping out of school at sixteen. “Reeder!”” I want to dive under my desk. Do I really have to look? Please God, just let me get
some of the questions right! It’s my first semester of college and I’m hoping to at least muddle through. I’ve never done very well in school but I’m giving it another try. I feel like I’ve missed out on so many things. I want to learn. I want more out of life. But I dread facing the number circled in red on my test.

I haven’t made a very big deal about starting college. To me it’s just another thing that I’m starting, like a new job — nothing momentous about it. I’m a little apprehensive but no more than I would be on the first day of anything. I probably subconsciously thought I was going to fail again, so why get excited? My boyfriend is much more geared up about it than I am. “Wow, my sweetie is starting college today! Are you excited? Do you want me to pack your lunch?,” he gushes. My sister Ann called the night before to talk about it as well. It’s not like college is my first post-high school educational experience though. I’d already completed a two-year certificate program at a technical school, but clearly college was a much bigger deal to my loved ones. The difference I later found was that while technical school opened the door to a job, college opened doors to the world and a new life.

Looking back, I was a relatively young returning student but I had crammed a great deal of “life experience” into my twenty-three years. I’d dropped out of high school, supported myself from the age of sixteen and moved out to live on my own after my eighteenth birthday. I felt positively ancient compared to my classmates. And I was lost. Although my family valued education, college was an alien concept to me. I’d hated school for as long as I could remember so my parents never broached the subject of higher education. They were more concerned with just getting me through high school. My dad also ingrained in my head that they
couldn’t afford to pay for college anyway so I would have to do it on my own. My mom was too weary after raising two hippies, a boy with muscular dystrophy, and a punk rocker (me) to make a fuss about anything. I was left to my own devices to figure things out. Meeting my husband, who had just graduated with a Master’s degree, was a turning point in realizing that college might be a good idea. Still I had no idea how I would pay for it or whether I would fail miserably like I had so many times before.

My first week of college was a study in wild mood swings; from one moment to the next I was anxious, excited, terrified and enthralled. One morning I was so nervous that I nearly became sick to my stomach while waiting at a stop light on the way to campus. I somehow made it to school intact but then I misunderstood the professor’s instructions about where the class would meet the next day. I showed up at room 205 ready for class only to find out that it was his office not our new classroom.

I was scared to raise my hand even when I was sure I knew the answer to the question posed. Many other interesting incidents occurred as the week went by but my fear began to lessen. Somehow I got through that first week and then six more years of higher education.

I started out as an art major at Miami Dade Community College. Miami Dade turned out to be my salvation. Miami Dade, now known as Miami Dade College, had two features that set it apart from other colleges: an “open door” policy and affordable tuition. As an open door college, anyone with a high school diploma, or in my case a GED, had to be accepted. I was also able to afford to take two or three classes a semester thanks to the lower tuition. After my second semester, I found out that I qualified for an academic scholarship based on my grades. The catch was that I would have to enroll in the Honors Program, a major leap for a person who had once feigned chicken pox and a host of other illnesses to avoid school. My “college is no big deal” attitude was giving way to feelings of fear and trepidation. College was one thing but an Honors Program? How could I possibly make it out alive? Not only were my classmates young, they were also very smart. Still, financial need quashed any fears I had; the scholarship covered all of my tuition and fees. Miami-Dade had enough faith in me to cover my tuition, I just had to find the faith to believe in myself.

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