Taking part in the Ann Dee Ellis 8-Minute Memoir Writing Challenge. This is Day Sixteen.
I was in my late thirties, divorced, and supporting three small kids alone when I filled out my first actual college application. I had gone to art school, and done a quarter or two half-heartedly at the community college when I was fresh out of high school, but that was the extent of my formal education. I had always loved school, but the way my life unfolded, it just wasn’t a priority.
Looking back, it’s actually more complicated than just not being a priority. I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t really have anyone to show me or mentor me. I was bright, but I didn’t really know it, or more importantly, I didn’t really believe it. When I found myself suddenly in the terrible position of facing a future without an education, it was time to finally address and face those fears.
When the envelope from the state university came back with my acceptance letter, I was surprised. I was delighted- I stuck it to the refrigerator with a big magnet, where I could see it every day as I ran carpool and took care of my kids. It was a letter of hope. It meant someone believed in me, and they wanted me to come to college. It meant I had a future beyond where I currently sat.
My situation was special, but probably not unique- plenty of women find themselves in unexpected, unanticipated life situations. Most women still have a co-parent after a divorce, and some form of support. That’s once place where I was different. There was a sense of urgency, that I didn’t have time to waste, and I certainly didn’t need to figure out who I was and take classes that didn’t propel me towards graduation. I met with my advisor and figured out a plan, and if I carried a heavy course-load year-round, I could graduate in three years. My advisor was cautious, and didn’t recommend my plan, but agreed I could try it. Certainly it wouldn’t be advisable for a 19 year old. But I wasn’t 19.
That first day, I looked around at the young, fresh faces in my classes. I was intimidated, knowing I was old enough for some of these kids to be my kid. I didn’t say much, I kept my head down. I took notes fervently, studied hard, and wrote paper after paper. And I realized something important. I was smart enough. I had something to offer. I had a different perspective, a perspective my professors almost always welcomed. I learned to speak up, to offer my thoughts in different classes with different environments. I learned I was a very good writer, and could make my points clearly and argue effectively.
Three years later, I graduated. I graduated with honors. I wasn’t 19.
Now, several years on, I am arguing with myself about going back and finishing my graduate degree. On some days, I am even considering a radical change in plans and taking on a whole new program. Sometimes there is a little voice telling me I am too old. Telling me it’s a waste, and I don’t deserve/need/warrant the space in a program that interests me. I try really hard to tell that voice to shove it.
Learning is awesome. School is important. Never stop learning, however you go about it. We are just simply not meant to close up shop at dusk, like a shy day flower. Keep trying. Keep inviting in the new. Keep looking up. Keep your heart and your mind open.