by Caroline Reeder
Here are your tests back,
my professor sighed. Im 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! Its my first semester
of college and Im hoping to at least muddle through.
Ive never done very well in school but Im
giving it another try. I feel like Ive 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 havent made a very big deal about starting
college. To me its just another thing that
Im starting, like a new job nothing momentous
about it. Im 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. Its not
like college is my first post-high school educational
experience though. Id 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. Id 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. Id 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
couldnt 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 Masters
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 professors
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.