I'm Going To College!

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Month: May, 2012

The First Day of School…Finally!

Imitation is the purest form of flattery.  I was apprehensive on my first day of school and it showed.  As I gathered my pencils, paper and notebooks, Ethan reminded me that I should always be polite at school, raise my hand before speaking, and push my chair in when I get up.  Hmmm…his advice sounded vaguely familiar.  It was the same advice I gave him every year on the first day of school! Rachel’s advice, on the other hand, was more social than practical.  She told me making friends would be easier  if I remembered to smile and say “Hello” to at least one classmate in each class.  And always write homework assignments in the new Student Planner, so I would not forget them.  She sounded just like me!  I never knew that the kids even listened to me when I gave them advice on the first day of school.  I recited the directions by rote, having given the same advice to my sons for twelve years before.  It was clear I would have to be more careful from now on in what I say to them, since they really do listen.   But, it was good, solid advice and I would do well to use it.  After all, it was my advice in the first place.

There is more to Shakespeare than I ever imagined.  I sat on the left side, toward the front of the room, in my very first college class, because all the “cool” kids sit on the left side, and close to the front because my eyes are not what they used to be.  My professor, Dr. W., had us all give our name and state what we liked to read.  I listened to my fellow classmates say they read sports, magazines, blogs, but not too many actually mentioned books.  This confused me a little, not only am I an avid reader, my children and grandchildren are too.  Just as I was wondering how these kids entertained themselves without books, I heard the most delightful, baritone voice speaking right behind me.  I did not hear what he was saying, only listening to the most expressive, passionate voice I had ever heard.  Absolutely a voice born to recite Shakespeare.  I realized that three days a week for an entire semester, I would start my day by listening to this amazing young man bring life to the words I had read and loved for years.  I could not wait to hear him read the part of King Henry issuing orders to his soldiers before battle, or Othello as he declares his undying love for Desdemona. After class, I took Rachel’s advice and smiled at him.  Tom was an engaging guy, a musician, and very charming to boot.   Where was he when I was in my twenties?  I would have wanted to date him, now I just want to adopt him.

Humans have a deep-seated desire to communicate with each other, as evidenced by the diverse student presence in my Human Communications class.  The class consisted largely of post-secondary students, kids who were still in high school and taking college courses.  There were a few “soccer moms” and the rest were mostly traditional, first year students.  The focus of the class was on public speaking.  I chose this class specifically because I was not afraid of public speaking, I rather enjoyed it, so I expected to breeze through it.  When Dr. F. explained that we would choose our own topics for the three speeches required by the course, I determined that one of mine would be on the aging process.  Why would any of these young people want to know about aging?  They probably don’t, but I am going to make it my mission to show them how aging causes physical changes, not personality changes.  I want them to know that I have the same hopes and dreams about my education as they do, I like to have fun, I hate homework just like they do.  In many ways, I am a typical college freshman just like them…. well, except for the arthritis and wrinkles!  And this speech will be my chance to prove it!

Some first year  college students think they are still in high school.  My World Music class proved to be “that class”.  You know, the class with kids who whisper and giggle throughout class, making it necessary for the teacher to stop the lesson and tell them to be quiet.  Then the “soccer mom” in the front row felt the need to yell at them, going on and on about their bad behavior, while Dr. N stood at the front of the classroom shaking his head.  It was so disappointing to see this kind of behavior, from both the immature students and the loud-mouthed soccer mom.  I found Dr. N to be an amazing teacher, very intelligent and interesting as he spoke of his life in music.  He was even in our textbook.  I had never met anyone who was featured as an expert in a textbook before!  Living with a musician, and not being a musician myself, I really wanted to learn about music from all over the world.  But it was an uphill battle in this class because my classmates seemed to think it was acceptable to behave badly.  It was distracting and some days, I really just wanted to skip class to escape the nonsense. I have already been in high school with all the drama that entails.  I am in college to be smarter, I am paying for this, and it is not a game to me.

The first day of college is exhilarating and exhausting.  My face actually hurt from smiling all day!  I was so happy to be in college, to be living a dream I had for so many years.  For the most part it was everything, and more, that I thought it would be.  In the space of one day, I heard Shakespeare come alive in Tom’s voice, decided to set the record straight about old people, and met a professor who was an expert in his field!  And then I read the syllabus for each of my four classes.  The smile quickly faded as I realized that I was facing a semester of homework and assignments that I had no idea how to complete.  I knew if I could organize the work into smaller time frames, it would be more manageable.  So, I spent the next two days marking due dates and deadlines on the calendar.  Now, I knew when everything was due, but I did not know how to do it.  I was even more overwhelmed.  Ethan, my nine-year old “voice of reason”, told me to relax.  I was not supposed to know how to do the work right now.  The professors had to teach it first.  As always, he made sense.  But I was still apprehensive, my high school education was so long ago that most of what I learned was outdated or not relevant anymore.  I am familiar with writing a summary of what I have read, but what is a thesis?

College was not going to be easy.  Let the learning begin….

 

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Disorientation

Freshman orientation left me decidedly disoriented.  I was not required to attend freshman orientation, but I wanted to take advantage of anything that would help me prepare for college.  Instead of learning the finer points of the first year, it was more like the Barnum and Bailey Circus.  I was part of the large mass of people moving from one place to another, hurrying to see the next attraction.  The welcome speech was unremarkable.  A lot of information, but nothing new.  It was a rehash of everything freshmen already knew.  The professor and senior student leading the presentation explained that in college, a student must learn  to study, manage classes and partying.  There was a general overview of what professors expect from student, as well as numerous warnings that you are on your own now, you are not in high school anymore.  They touched briefly on what to tell, or not tell, your parents about college.  The bulk of the presentation focused on cell phone courtesy and making sure you do not post embarrassing photos on Facebook that future employers might see.   I waited in the packed auditorium for someone, anyone, to talk about all the new and exciting things we would learn about.  I thought I would hear about new milestones and research we, as college students, would be privy to.  There had to be discoveries and improved procedures in learning for us to look forward to.  But not once was there excitement over learning.  Was I expecting too much?

The true test of an informative speech can be determined by audience reaction.  My first session at Freshman Orientation was all about Study Strategies and Success in College.  A great title, but not much else.  The upperclass student speaker sported a superior attitude that effectively had the audience thinking of anything except what she was saying.  I saw my future classmates texting, watching the clock, eyes glazed over as they tried to stay awake and not listen to her “been-there-done-that’ stories.  We are freshmen.  We have not been there, nor have we done that.  Your stories are not relevant to us yet, and that attitude turns us off.   I listened patiently, waiting for at least one practical way to study or achieve success, but the only advice she offered was to sit in the front of the class to get good grades.  Hmmm….if it were that easy, wouldn’t everyone get straight A’s?  The professor stood beside the student speaker, smiling and nodding her head, reminding me of a bobble-head doll I saw in the bookstore.  Neither of them mentioned that freshmen would be able to learn about so many different subjects.  No talk of cutting edge discoveries or new ways of thinking.  I may be expecting too much.

Age is not an issue, until you make it the issue.  My second session was not much better than the first.  The minute I walked through the door, the professor came to me and personally showed me to a seat, remarking that the university welcomed non-traditional students.  I know he thought he was being kind, but his actions caused every head in close proximity to turn and stare at me.  I wanted to be a freshman college student, like everyone else, not an anomaly.  And I may be old, but I am capable of finding my own seat…all by myself.  I spent the next forty minutes thinking about the fact that I have been labeled a non-traditional student.  I can not remember what that orientation session was about.

There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.  I do not know who coined that phrase, but they deserve credit for the hope those particular words provide.  Orientation left a lot to be desired.  Our university could do better.  The focus for the individual sessions must be on higher learning.  That is what we are there for.  New ways of critical thinking and achievement have to be highlighted in order to inspire students.  The information that was presented at our Freshman Orientation can be distributed effectively through print materials.  New discoveries, what there is to learn, and what can be learned at the college must be the main point of any orientation session.  While it is important for new students to understand basic concepts of higher learning, it is most important to foster a desire to know more.  To enable students to learn the lessons in class and apply those lessons to a greater good.  Am I expecting too much?  Absolutely not!

I have pencils, notebooks, a new bookbag, and a burning desire to learn everything.  I can’t wait for the first day of school!

It’s MY Dream.

My age became a sticking point even before school started.  And it was never more apparent than when Rachel and I traveled to a local office supply store to stock up on everything I would need for college.  I clutched my schedule of classes, and the list of school supplies, I so painstakingly put together the day before, as I entered what can only be called–“The Twilight Zone”.  Upon entering the store, a very pretty (and young) sales associate approached us and asked if we needed help finding anything.  Well, of course we did!  Help is good.  It saves time and energy.  I thought the best advice about school supplies would come from someone, like her, who was young enough to actually use them.  See, going to college was not going to be as hard as I thought.  I handed her the list, she looked it over, promptly turned to Rachel and asked her what college she was going to.  I was not offended.  It was a reasonable assumption that the seventeen year old daughter was getting ready for college as opposed to the much older mother.  I smiled at her as I explained that I was the student, not Rachel.  The poor girl looked horrified and shook her head in disbelief.  I assumed she was embarrassed by her mistake.  I  waited for her to compose herself, after all, I was focused on gathering the necessary supplies I would need for my classes.  It was important to be prepared, because I wanted to do the best work possible.  Just like a carpenter cannot build a house without a hammer, a student cannot do well without the right tools.  However, when she did recover from the initial shock of who the student really was, she looked at me and asked, “Why”? Now I was a bit offended.  But perhaps I should have expected it.  I am not a traditional student, you will never see me on the fancy television commercials for the university I plan to attend.  Nor is someone my age ever featured prominently on the slick brochures.  But my answer to the young woman, who felt it was perfectly acceptable to ask me why I would go to college, knowing nothing about me, except that I was not a recent high school graduate, was as offensive as her question.  I answered, “Why not”?

I do not want or need special treatment because of my age, but I do want to be considered as a student.  I am going to college for many of the same reasons as traditional students.  I want to learn.  I want to be smart.  I want to understand what has always seemed so difficult to me.  I want good grades, honors maybe, and definately a degree.  But unlike traditional students, I am already retired and do not need an education to start a career or make the “big bucks”.    I am not a” soccer mom” who is returning to school to get ahead in a current career or start a new one.  I do not have young children at home that need me, or a job that demands my time.  I have no desire to audit courses like many of my peers, to keep myself alert and informed.  I want to earn a degree on my own merit and hard work.  Why?  Because it is my dream.

A dream is a dream, no matter how long it takes to achieve it.  While most little girls in the fifties and sixties dreamed of their wedding day and houses with white  picket fences, I dreamed of graduation day and academic rhetoric.  And my dreams were getting closer as the calendar on the kitchen wall counted the days till I would finally begin college.  But first, I had to get through–Freshman Orientation.  Undaunted by my experience at the office supply store, I was certain that at orientation I would not experience the same negative (and downright rude) reactions that I had seen elsewhere.  This was college and people were judged on their knowledge and ability, not age.  I could not have been more wrong.  Rachel offered to go with me to orientation.  She always goes with me.  I would like to imagine it is because she is the supportive daughter every mother wants.  In reality, I think she just wants a preview of what is to come for herself, when she starts college next year.  Still, I appreciate the company and it is nice to have someone to share all the excitement with.  But orientation started on a sour note.  I signed in at the welcome table and was told that parents were to meet in the Student Center, and only students were allowed to attend the various seminars that were offered.  I patiently explained that I was the student and with a shake of her head, the welcome attendant mumbled, “Whatever” and proceeded to the next person in line.  Starting to feel like going to college may not have been the right decision, I dispatched Rachel to the parents area and moved to the first session.  At the door, a student mentor stopped me and explained that parents were supposed to go to the Student Center.  During the five hours of Freshman Orientation, I was told seventeen times that parents were meeting in the Student Center.

Ageism is alive and thriving at the university I plan to attend.  Throughout orientation, the day I looked forward to for so many years as the start of something wonderful, I was alternately ignored, re-directed to the Student Center, and outright stared at.  It was disheartening to say the least.  But at the end of the day, I saw my beautiful daughter, Rachel, so confident, so accepting, walk across the campus smiling and I knew none of it mattered.  She was proud of me and absolutely positive that I would not only pass my classes, I would excel in college.  In fact, my offspring had more faith in me than I did.  So, it did not matter what other students, staff, or even professors thought of me.  It only mattered what I thought of me.  This is my dream.  I am “so over” these people with their outdated attitudes toward age.  I am going to be a great college student.

 

Decisions, Decisions

Acceptance by a group or individual is affirmation that you count.  When the letter from the college came in the mail, I was not sure I wanted to open it.  If I did not get accepted, I would be crushed.  If I was accepted, I would be anxious. I carefully placed the envelope on the kitchen table.  And that is where it stayed for seven days.   In the end, my grandson, Ethan, was the one to open the envelope.  He read the letter quickly and smiled at me.  I was in!  I am going to college!!

A moment of clarity always ruins a good celebration.  After the initial dancing and shouting wound down, I realized that in addition to feeling exhilarated at the very thought of attending a major university, I was frightened at the same time.  Was I too old?  Would I be able to keep up with classmates that were a third of my age?  What if I just wasn’t smart enough for college?  Still, if I did go to college, I would be able to learn everything I have always wondered about; what Shakespeare really means with his flowery prose, how a group of ragtag farmers created a country that became one of the superpowers in the world, and if I really was a good writer, like everyone says.  Just the decision to go to college was enough to cause an anxiety attack.

I knew that technology would be a challenge for me, and not without a certain amount of stress, caused by trying to catch up with a generation so skilled at everything technical.  When I graduated from high school, computers were only seen in Science Fiction shows on television.  The internet did not exist, and the idea of a telephone that I could carry around in my pocket remained far in the future.    Facebook was the high school yearbook.  MySpace was half of a bedroom I shared with my sister.  Online was where I stood for sale prices at J.C. Penny’s and texting was a telegram from Western Union.  Social networking was knowing someone who knew someone.  It was having connections through community.  A community of people to ask for advice, lend a helping hand, and most importantly—to offer support when I need it the most.

I quickly discovered that mastering technology is a minor issue when compared to a being college student over the age of fifty-five years old.

 

Retirement Is No Walk In The Park

Everyone who works all their life looks forward to retirement.  And I am no exception.  I counted the days till I could sleep in each morning, travel to exotic locations, and catch up on reading the books, currently gathering dust in the corner of my bedroom.  Retirement is the reward for working hard for so many years.  And I bought into the whole package, believing that I was beginning the best time of my life.  Too bad it didn’t work out that way.

The first year of retirement was quite eventful.  My son, Eric, changed his work schedule to spend more time with his boys.  That was great!  I was proud that he was a good father and realized the importance of spending time with his children.  Until I discovered, that he assumed I would be the one to get up at 5:00 a.m. each morning and drive to his house to babysit when he had to leave for work.  There goes the ‘sleeping in’ part of retiring that I looked forward to.  My daughter, Rachel, an aspiring rockstar and junior in high school, was booking more and more guitar playing jobs.  I was so excited for her!  Then I found out that, because she is under eighteen, I was required by law to accompany her.  My dream of traveling changed from exotic locales to visiting every nasty college bar in the tri-state area.

The books I longed to read remained gathering dust in the corner.  Our local cable television company made two great services available to the public during my first year of retirement.  High definition channels and the Digital Video Recorder.  It was my downfall.  In an instant, I had 280 hi-def channels to watch.  And I didn’t even have to pick just one!  The DVR allowed me to record two channels while I watched another.  I could zip through commercials and watch what I wanted, when I wanted.  I am still unsure of how it records programs without tapes or discs, but it does.  I can also stop live television anytime I want  to get a snack or answer the telephone.  I was hooked.  In a few months, I was following dozens of programs and gaining weight quickly.  I gained a lot of weight, 63 pounds in fact.  But I didn’t care, I was retired.  Then, I had a stroke.

A life threatening event is a wake up call.   Rachel and I were driving home from a graduation party when I noticed my right arm felt heavy.  I could barely move it to turn the steering wheel.  There was no pain, I didn’t even have a headache.  I thought the heaviness was odd, but no cause for concern.  When we arrived at home, I was unable to get out of the car.  I couldn’t move my right arm or leg.  When I tried to tell Rachel what was wrong, my words sounded slurred and slow.  Rachel was alarmed when she saw that the right side of my face was frozen.  It didn’t move as I tried to talk.  Rachel called my sister for help.  My sister, a physician’s assistant, told her that I was probably having a stroke and needed to get to the hospital as soon as possible.  It was in that moment, when Rachel heard the word stroke, that chaos ensued.  She called Eric, who flew to our house and drove like a madman to the hospital.  At the hospital, I was told that I was most likely having a stroke, and they were going to give me a drug that would stop the stroke, but warned me that if I wasn’t having a stroke, the drug would kill me.  Like most people, I like having choices, it makes me feel like I am in control, but this was not much of a choice.  Doctors, nurses, and technicians hovered around me, busy shouting statistics at each other.  Eric and Rachel huddled in the corner looking like I was dying right before their eyes.  And I was on a table, hard-wired to multiple machines, thinking about the books I hadn’t read yet.

The best way to recover from a stroke is to live.  I did not die from my stroke.  Not even close.  And though it was wildly entertaining to see so many people look so worried, it was not as bad as I thought it would be.  I did not enjoy eighteen months of physical therapy, in a room that reminded me of a medieval torture chamber, but I survived.  And lost 60 pounds!  The most significant result of having a stroke was knowing that I wanted to do more before I did die.  I wanted to live, not just pass the time being a babysitter or chaperone for my children.  There was so much I wanted to know about.  So many things to learn.

But where do I go from here?

The Journey Begins…

Very little education is required to be a housewife.  I was born and raised in a traditional 1950’s family.  Dad was a blue collar worker and Mom stayed at home to raise five daughters and a son.  My sisters and I were taught to sew, knit, cook, clean, and take care of children.  Formal education was not a priority, in fact, I cannot remember a time when anyone asked to see my report card.  My parents did not graduate from high school, and neither did my grandparents. No one in my family, or extended family, had gone to college, nor expressed any desire for higher learning.  For my brother, as long as he could write and count money, he could find a job and take care of a family.  The girls were expected to marry, so a basic Eighth Grade education was sufficient.

Every family has a black sheep, and in my family, it was me.  I wanted to know everything!  I found a book in the school library written by William Shakespeare and instantly fell in love with the language he used and the tragic stories he told through his writings.  When I asked the librarian if there were more books by this author, she patted my shoulder, telling me that I would be better off if I got my head out of the clouds and paid more attention in Home Economics.  I suppose she thought that Shakespeare would not help me get a good husband, but cooking and sewing would.  I took her advice, applied myself to mastering the coveted homemaker skills, while secretly dreaming of learning a foreign language, reading every book in the library, and figuring out difficult science problems.

College was not an option for me.  Our middle class family could not afford such an expensive endeavor for a girl, who was expected to marry and raise children.  They just did not see the point.  So, I did what most teenagers do when faced with parents that simply do not understand.  I rebelled.  I left home shortly after my eighteenth birthday and joined the Air Force, because they promised a college education in exchange for service to our country.  And in the Air Force, I met a great guy, fell madly in love and married him.  A few years and two sons later, I still dreamed of college while I changed diapers, cleaned, and cooked.  But the dream kept getting farther and farther away.

Life has a way of intruding on hopes and dreams.  After divorcing my husband, I was faced with being a single parent of two active, young boys.  It was fun to watch them grow and learn, but time-consuming.  Even if I thought about college, there were not enough hours in the day to fit it in.  Silly me, I actually thought I would go to college when they were both older.  I did not realize that older kids meant more activities, and more time and money.  Between football, Boy Scouts, Little League, and the endless housework, there was little time and no money left for higher education.  But, somehow, even with such a hectic lifestyle, I managed to meet another great guy, fall in love, and have a beautiful daughter.  At this point, I resigned myself to the fact that college was out of the question.

It’s never too late.  I have had a great life so far.  My sons grew up to be hard-working family men, the kind of men I am proud to call my sons.  My oldest son, Alexander, was a highly decorated Marine who served two tours in Iraq.  I bid farewell to him in 2005 when he died in an auto accident, just a month after he returned from duty.  He left behind his wonderful wife and my amazing granddaughter, Trinity.  My son Eric is an accomplished industrial welder and well-respected in his field.  He has blessed me with two delightful grandsons, Ethan and Alex.  My daughter, Rachel, is an aspiring rockstar and a senior in high school.  It was the process of helping her to plan life after high school that the thought of going to college surfaced once more.  We were considering the different music programs in a number of universities, when Rachel mentioned that it would be “way cool” if I would go to college with her, since I am retired now.  I laughed.  And then I started thinking once more about the many times I tried, unsuccessfully, to figure out a way to go to college, and all the truly fascinating things I could learn about.  Maybe it was finally time to fulfill my lifelong dream of going to college.  With Rachel’s help and my grandchildren cheering me on, I held my breath and signed the college application.

And so, the journey begins…