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Going Back to College:
Students Tell of Struggle, Success
(Continued)

New Beginning

There were many arrangements to be made in order to re-enter college. I had to accept and adapt to a lifestyle which would require a good deal of sacrifice on many levels, in the short term. It would mean leaving behind family, friends, my home, and my salary. I had to be certain that I was committed enough to see my education through to fruition, and that I had the flexibility to re-learn strong study habits. To date I am pleased and encouraged by a 4.0 GPA.

My first day at Eastern Washington University consisted of an orientation course. All of the newly enrolled freshman were divided into groups and instructed to meet in specific rooms to attend an orientation being given by a University representative. I found a place in the room and the session began with a comment from the instructor, who made eye contact with me, as she stated very clearly .“all of the parents need to be oriented in the room next door”.

I was mortified, but maintained a polite demeanor and replied “I'll be sure to pass that information along, if any of the parents appear to be lost or in the wrong room”. Undaunted, but a bit embarrassed I proceeded to make a room full of immediate friends. I am one of perhaps a dozen or so students in the Psychology program (out of hundreds), that are nontraditional returning students. This has turned out to be a plus in many ways. The younger students relate to me well and share the stresses they feel, and have asked me to give them hints about study habits, and assistance with research papers,and I am glad to do so. I find a special sense of belonging when younger students approach me for advice and am careful not to over step my bounds, but listen well, and try to be genuinely supportive.

It has not been so long ago, that I too was faced with the many dilemmas of life they are now encountering. I am older than some of my professors, however this seems to have enhanced the dialogues between us, for there exists a common history, from which we can draw upon. I am often flattered by professors who will ask for my in put on a given topic being discussed in class and was most recently very encouraged when one of my professors asked permssion to keep a copy of my reseach paper to be used as an example for students who would be enrolling in his courses in the future.

I feel that partly due to the temperance that age brings, I will be a good addition to my newly chosen course of study and resulting profession. I want to make a difference in the lives of people. I want to give them tools to have optimal lives. My aim is to make a difference, one person at a time, beginning with myself.

My new beginning has raised my self-awareness, and an empathy for my fellows in society. There will always be a need for my chosen course of study. As our society becomes more mobile, the family unit becomes more fragmented, and the baby-boomer generation becomes more aged, there will be a great deal of emotional fallout resulting from nontraditional lifestyles. My particular areas of interest are in our youth (our future as a Society), and in our elder populations, many of whom have become the "forgotten ones", left to spend countless hours in nursing facilities after having been involved in years of stimulating lifestyles. I also have an interest in volunteering in homeless shelters, whose populations consist of women and children, who for a myriad of reasons find themselves in a position to pick up the pieces of their lives.

I am a realist, and am fully aware of the fact that I can not make the world perfect. There were many professions I could have chosen to pursue, I just felt passionately, from experience in the Medical Health Care field, that there were gaps in our Health Care structure that I could use new tools to become involved in patching. This new path I've chosen is not, nor will it be an easy one, but it will have rewards beyond those of only monetary gain.- C.T., age 41.

Things Haven't Changed That Much

Like many young people, it took me some time to settle on the field of study that was right for me. I had finally selected Theatre and was in the midst of pursuing my bachelor's degree when I discovered I was pregnant. My boyfriend and I had called it quits a month prior to this so I knew this was something I had to face alone. Because of my religious upbringing, abortion was not an option I seriously considered. I quit school, went on welfare and gave birth to a son.

Being a parent took tremendous energy and for a number of years, I devoted all my time to that task. After struggling to find employment and decent housing in the city (we moved 5 times in one year), I finally moved in with my parents when my son was two years old. This was intended to be a temporary situation while I took office courses at a local college and got my feet on the ground. Instead it stretched into 16 years and continues today.

Prior to and after my son's high school graduation, I began to wonder “what do I do now?” I knew I needed and wanted to get out on my own financially. After being helped by my parents all these years, I would love to someday get to a place where I can be of help to them as well as to my son. I began to dream of returning to school. After researching various career options and possibilities I decided that the best match for my talents and interests would be to teach theatre at a community college. Since leaving school in 1981, I have continued to be involved in theatre, and have learned that I am especially gifted in directing and never more "alive" than when I'm involved in a production. I also became convinced that art is of vital importance to our society, even though business and technology are often center stage these days. Art to me is like color, we usually take it for granted and don't even notice its richness - until we watch a black & white TV.

Yet "WHAT AM I THINKING?" occasionally flashes through my mind these days along with a sudden hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. What will it be like to be a part of campus life again? Thank God I'm familiar with the campus itself (my alma mater) so I won't have to wander around looking lost. It's bad enough that I have to look old - I'm 41 - and speaking of looks, I'm definitely going on a serious diet between now and August first!

When I think back 18 years to my previous campus experience I vividly remember eyeing with envy the clothes worn by college students whose parents obviously sent them a generous monthly allowance - probably their own credit card. I couldn't compete then and I can't compete now. I'd like to think the difference is that now I'm a little more secure in who I am and in my awareness that the essence of personhood is deep down underneath the Gucci and Calvin Klein smokescreen. Maybe I am. But I'll probably still cringe a little when I pull on my thrift store blue jeans and stand sideways to examine my bulging profile. I guess things haven't changed that much after all. - C.H., age 41.


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