Back to School

(Editor’s note: Another post from commenter K. while I’m on vacation.)

I’m going back to school this fall.

I started college when I was twenty, but for reasons that took several years of counseling to clarify, I dropped out. I’ve been working hard most of the last thirty-five years, and I figure I can go through school and be broke just as well as I can not go to school and be broke. In the meantime, I’ve learned some things that will help.

I’ve been a short-order cook in a coffee shop in a small town. I’ve been a clerk at a convenience store, more than once. My brother was one, too, for a while.

I did the census thing, knocked on people’s doors. Most people would open the door and talk to you, even though you could almost smell the fear coming off them, wondering what awful secret I was going to demand they reveal. When you stand there in front of them and talk to them, when you hand them a plate of food or a pack of cigarettes and wish them well, you stop being a cipher or a statistic, and become a human. Most people are scared and lonely, some, and are waiting to make that human connection, to shake your hand or invite you in to sit down, to tell you their story. Most people aren’t sitting around waiting for you to fall flat on your face, either; instead, they’re hoping you walk onstage and sing like an angel.

I was a janitor on a college campus. I cleaned offices and classrooms, and got to know people and let them get to know me, a little. I learned that most teachers actually want you to get some of that stuff they are shoveling into your brain, that their sense of self-worth is tied up with students learning, so that if you act like you are trying to learn, they will more than meet you half-way. And that there is really very little glamour or prestige tied up with being a college professor, so treat them like they are actual people, instead of freakishly confused aliens with ray guns. (Although a friend of mine who is a college professor told me I need to remember: some of them are crazy.)

Almost everybody I’ve talked to is convinced I can do this, and are envious of this adventure, and think I’m brave, and neither listen to nor believe the little voice in me that decides I’m out of my mind at least five times before breakfast. Except for the two people who said “You can’t make much money with an art degree, can you,” with no question mark at the end. I can’t make much money without one, so, whatever.

This one has been hard to learn. I am okay. Being the kind of person who picks up bits and pieces like a crow picking up shiny objects is okay. That being the kind of person who picks up bits and pieces and puts them into place like pieces in a puzzle is a good thing when one up and decides to go back to college. That having these little shiny bits and pieces on hand, and to be willing to give them to whoever might have a need, is a good thing. That I am okay, and that I will be okay, that my daughter will survive, that we will both grow.

That the future isn’t written yet. Everything is up in the air even more than usual, and that I might actually succeed. Maybe something good will happen. That maybe I should start thinking about what the future might look like. My future. Maybe.

12 thoughts on “Back to School

  1. You can do this. I was younger when I returned to complete college, but there will be others there younger and older. There will be people like you and different. I just loved it, and it was the biggest life changing experience I ever had.

    Good luck! Oh, and the profs love “returning women/men” because they speak up in class and have life experience!

    Are you going 4 year or associates?

  2. When I went to college at age 21, my poli sci. professor went to bat for me, getting me actual college credits for “life experience.” See if you can find someone there to get credit for YOUR life experience! And YOU GO GIRL!

  3. I have to post my resume on the job search site. One thing is good; because I’m eligible for work study aid, somebody has to give me a job for the school year.

  4. Beautiful words- college is a wonderful experience. As a former instructor, I loved teaching the weekend college classes that were full of “mature” students. Their life experiences really enriched the classes and educated me in so many ways. Best wishes.

  5. Education, like youth, is all too often wasted on the young. You’ll do great. And don’t worry too much about the “what can you do with an art degree” thing.

    If it was about “job training”, a trade school would be the ticket. But “education” is about developing new ways to think, and new ways to see the world around you. And for that, it’s worth it.

    Go for it.

  6. Your observation about professors meeting you more than half way if you show some interest is on the mark. When I went back to school a friend advised me to sit in the front of class and ask questions, show interest in understanding what’s being communicated. It was the best academic advice I ever got. Almost all respond to your interest by teaching to you. The rest? Well, as you know, there are assholes everywhere. Screw the degree. If you’re interested in learning a bunch of really interesting stuff and can put up with being broke most of the time, college is a trip.

    And if you cast around a bit, you’ll find some topic that really flips your switch.

  7. Good for you! It took me over 30 years, a few classes at a time, but I finally went back full-time at 49 and got my BA at 51. That was five years ago. Believe me, any kind of degree makes a difference. I don’t think I ever noticed before how all the jobs I had been doing and all the jobs I wanted required a degree – and how little difference it makes what the degree is in. Basically a degree tells an employer you stuck with the program and jumped through the hoops. And it’s s source of self-esteem that no one can ever take away from you.

    Don’t worry about having to compete with younger students. In my experience people our age were better prepared for college than today’s high school seniors are. Plus it’s true what was said above about instructors appreciating non-traditional students. There was a story on NPR today about non-traditional students: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129402669

  8. Ya know, K, if I had known what I eventually discovered about college debt, I would have stayed a student on the government’s dime for my entire life. Now, I know that that sounds crazy and irresponsible, but to accumulate 2 or 3 Masters and a couple of PHd’s is not a bad thing especially when the student loan is just about paid for by the time I’m dead. But, in the meantime my kids/wife and family have a pretty damn good educational reputation to build on. Say I’m a deadbeat! It’s ok, join the rest of us who like to hide how we swing on the gubmint dime!

  9. BTW, K, I went back at age 45——————got a BA. Signed up for a Readers’ Digest Masters of Education grant, graduated top of my class, had the greatest time of my life teaching middle school kids in a very diverse system and I’ve never regreted a day of it! I’m retired now, but girl I have had a blast! GO FOR IT!!!!!!!!!

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