I'm Going To College!

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Month: July, 2012

Back To School

Going back to school evokes various emotions in my family.  Rachel is looking forward to her senior year in high school.  She has a light schedule (with no Math classes) and plenty of time to work on her music.  Ethan, not excited about the early mornings, is looking forward to reconnecting with friends and enjoying the perks of advanced classes.  I am grateful to be starting my sophomore year of college.  I am thankful for the opportunity to attend college, and so pleased that I am suited for academia.

Returning for the second year is less stressful, yet comes with it’s own set of anxieties.  I know what to expect when it comes to homework, class participation and professors.  I can mange my time to accomplish day-to-day living, as well as course work and required reading.  I study effectively and have proven that I can get good grades.  I will build social networks to help myself, and other students, save time and get higher scores.  But American Sign Language is no “walk in the park” with arthritic hands.  I am a total groupie for Shakespeare, but this is a third year class and I am unsure that I will be able to keep up.   New discoveries through scientific research has changed History since I studied it in high school.  Will I be able to re-learn what I was taught so many years ago?  And who ever wants to take Sociology?

Rest and relaxation are overrated.  The lazy days of Summer are necessary to rejuvenate your mind and spirit, but three months is enough.  The beginning of a new school year is not the end of summer, but more the start of new things to learn and skills to master.  And I cannot wait!  Thanks to my research project of last year, I will start from day one organizing and gathering classmates for my social media groups.  In the process, I will expand my personal social network and update the network I established last year.  As the networks grow, more students will find the help they need to succeed in their respective classes.  I have been looking at ways to track these social networks to determine their value to college students.  This will help me  fine tune the systems to insure maximum efficiency for all students involved.  My ultimate goal is to make these networks flexible enough to be adapted to any class or any group of students depending on their need.

At the end of one’s life, there is still much to do.  I have lived more than half a century, but instead of slowing down, I am just learning to live.  When I was a young girl, probably no older than Ethan, my Grandmother told me that I should always be smart enough to know that I do not know everything.  I dismissed it at the time as the unrelated ramblings of an old woman, but now I consider it the most important advice I have ever heard.  I do not know everything, and I want to.  Which is why I tackled the ambitious goal of college as a senior citizen.  I am often asked why I go to college, and will I ever use my education if or when I finish.  I go to college, because I want to learn, I want to know what I do not know.  And will I ever use my education?  What a silly question!  I use what I have learned so far, every single day.

And there is so much more…..

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Moral Support: A Slippery Slope

Moral support is a slippery slope, and while I would agree that everyone needs moral support, I do not agree that it is necessary for success.  At my age, I cannot count on the encouragement, or financial support of my parents.  They are both deceased.  However, living with them for a large part of my life, I know what they would say about going to college.  My mother thought college was a total waste of time and never missed an opportunity to point out that college graduates were people who could not make it in the real world.  She went on for hours extolling the virtues of sewing, cooking, child-rearing and knitting–all of which college graduates apparently do not know how to do.  My father stated many times that college was in place to train doctors, lawyers, and teachers.  Everyone else was better served learning from actually doing, and that hands on experience is not provided for in college.  After all, he was a mechanic who learned his skills on the job, and he made a decent living for his family.  I am the second oldest in a family of six children.  I was the first to graduate high school, in fact, myself and my youngest sister were the only children in our family that finished high school.  My parents were not bad people, but thought they were just being practical when it came to expectations for their children. Being raised in this atmosphere, where I dreamed of going to college, and they dreamed of marrying me off to the first guy who had a job, I realized that I did not need their approval to achieve my goals.

Family and friends do not have the right to destroy your dreams, even under the guise of love.  Just the fact that these are the people closest to you, do not give them the right to diminish or discourage you from being who you are.  Loved ones should voice their concerns and even  point out pitfalls in your plans, but never insinuate insanity is the cause for your lofty life goals.  Rachel wants to be a rockstar, but the music business is one of the most difficult to succeed in.  I tell her the drawbacks, the hurdles to breaking into an area like this, and together we work to find ways around them.  We attend music events, talk to musicians who are doing what she wants to do, we ask millions of questions, and spend hours researching the business.  She takes guitar lessons, teaches guitar, plays guitar with anyone who will sit down with her.   No matter what I think, if she wants to be a rockstar, she can be a rockstar.  But she cannot do it alone.  She needs my encouragement, my ideas, and most of all: my moral support.  Rachel will not have to wait until she is a senior citizen to realize her dreams.

Moral support can manifest itself in many different forms.  It does not have to be found only in close friends and family.  It can be as simple as a positive comment on a paper you wrote for school, or as complex as a stranger who openly admires a Spiderman quilt you made for your grandson.  However, the best moral support I have discovered, is in myself.  The pride I feel after accomplishing a task that I thought I could not do is the most positive reinforcement I have found.  It makes me want to do more, or do it better.  It gives me confidence that I can do anything.  And sometimes, it just gives me the strength to go on to the next day, or the next challenge life has for me.

And I am going to need that moral support, because school starts next month!  Yeah!

Summer Break: Sun, Fun, & Warped Tour X 2

The first year of college was busy, making Summer seem long and boring.  I looked forward to resting my brain, which had worked so hard for two semesters, but I viewed Summer with trepidation.  Returning to my former life of cooking, cleaning, being Mom and Grandma, no longer appealed to me.  College gave me a taste of learning, of success in doing so well, and social connections I was unwilling to give up for three months.  I realized I simply did not want to relax and spend the lazy days of Summer doing nothing.  I wanted to do what all college kids do on Summer break.  Have fun!  So, I turned to my social network (my family) to plan a Summer any student would love.

Just as specific goals are set for the school year, goals must be set for Summer as well.  There was a lot to accomplish in the three months of vacation, and when I looked at it from that perspective, Summer did not seem so long and boring anymore.  Ethan and I had so much luck with growing flowers last year, we decided to grow our own vegetables this year.  Rachel, rising rockstar that she is, convinced me that two days at Warped Tour is better than one.  In addition to their Summer goals, I took the advice of Professor K. and determined to write a weekly blog about my experiences in college as a senior citizen.  While it seemed simple enough, none of the goals was as easy as they sounded in the planning stage.

Gardening involves more than planting a seed.  Before you even start, the ground has to be tilled, prepared, and planted.  Then you wait.  Gardens have to be watered daily, after the sun goes down and the mosquitoes come out,  during the dry, hot Summer.  Then you wait.  Apparently, however, the weeds need very little water to grow and take over a garden quickly.  Removing the weeds from the garden is full-time work.  No sooner than you finish one row, weeds are growing back in the previous row.  When the seeds we so lovingly planted started to sprout small, green plants, the wildlife targeted our garden as their midnight party stop.  Within the span of a few days, the deer ate all the leaves off my maple saplings, the ground hogs ate all my peppers–plant and all–and the rabbits devoured the tiny tomato plants.  We bought assorted repellents, a pellet gun, and planted again.  And we waited some more.  Gardening was time-consuming, and very hard work.

At times, being exhausted and sunburned is just what the doctor ordered.  Rachel was thrilled to attend an all day music festival called Warped Tour, this year as an artist.  We had attended Warped Tour every year since she was nine years old and it was her dream to be able to perform there one day.  It was amazing!  Five stages with nonstop music, in every genre you could think of, from 11:00 a.m. till 11:00 p.m. at night.  We saw our old friends, blessthefall, Memphis Mayfire, Mayday Parade, Sleeping With Sirens, All Time Low, Phone Calls From Home, and more!  We met new friends in Yellowcard, Transit, The Used, and Emily’s Army.  Warped Tour serves as a showcase for many bands just starting out, as well as a valuable marketing tool for established bands with new recordings.  Some of the best known musicians in the world perform there.  And now, my Rachel, at seventeen years old, was right there with them.  The time, money, and heartache expended for a musician to get to this place, is totally forgotten in that 2.24 minutes on stage.  To Rachel, it was like making the Dean’s List of the music world.  And I know how incredible that feels!  There is not a drug or drink in the world that can compare to the feeling of a crowd of people clapping for you….or a Professor who thinks you could write a book that people would read.  We ended the long day, both of us sunburned, ready for a cool shower and a good night’s sleep.  Because tomorrow we would travel to Pittsburgh and do it all again!

In helping someone else, you are helping yourself.  The second day of Warped Tour made me wonder what I was thinking when I agreed to volunteer at the Kleen Kanteen tent.  Kleen Kanteen is a company that sells stainless steel water bottles to cut back on the use of plastic and the harmful BPA it contains.  They provide free water to concertgoers throughout the long, hot days preventing the serious effects of dehydration.  It is a great company and a worthy organization to volunteer our time to.  I never considered volunteering at Warped Tour until Rachel brought it up.  She told me that she did not want to be the person who never helps anyone else.  I was so touched, not to mention surprised that she actually listened to me in the past about being a responsible citizen, that I knew I just had to volunteer also.  It was even more amazing than attending Warped Tour for fun.  Throughout the day, many young people stopping by for water, thanked me.  The kids appreciated that the water was free, it was filtered and safe to drink, and mentioned that we were so nice to work hard all day for them.  Kleen Kanteen may have had two volunteers for the day, but Rachel and I were the real winners.  We left feeling satisfied that we made a difference.  We had helped other people.

Even though I do not look like I am almost sixty years old, I am almost sixty years old.  And it was never more apparent than the week after Warped Tour X Two.  Every joint in my body ached.  I had assorted cuts and bruises with no idea of how they got there.  I was sleep-deprived and even my scalp was sunburned.  Rachel, much younger than I, described the same conditions.  It was the best time ever!  I absolutely cannot wait till next Summer’s Warped Tour!

And that was just July.  August is shaping up to be even more intense.

Using What I Learned

The true value of a college education is actually using what you have learned.  While it is normal to wonder at times, if it is worth killing yourself with homework, classes, and scheduling to go to college, it is critical to see what you have learned, actually benefit your life.  Even more critical is recognizing that you are using what you learned when it happens.  It can come as a small glimpse, when a concept is immediately clear, or an epiphany when you tackle an enormous project and find it to be easier than it looked.  But however the realization comes, it is good to know that what you learned is useful.

There are practical uses for what students learn in class.  I took Shakespeare the first semester, because I like Shakespeare.  I did not expect to use what I learned about a 14th century playwright in my modern, high tech life.  Imagine my surprise when I found myself using what I learned in Shakespeare at home, in other classes, and social situations!  Reading and writing about Shakespeare taught me one of the most valuable lessons for any college student.  How to form a strong thesis and prove it with evidence from the readings.  Shakespeare was perfect for honing this skill, due to the fact that you first have to determine the meanings, then form an opinion, and finally compose your paper.  Every paper written in college uses the same process.  I use many famous Shakespeare quotes in introducing other subjects, from History to Global Music.  My History professor commented that my use of  a quote  from Richard IV, by William Shakespeare, “heavy is the head that wears the crown” to describe Abraham Lincoln struggling to rebuild our country after the Civil War, was unique and appropriate.  That paper earned me another high grade.  And how cool is it that I can recite sonnets, soliloquies, and racy prose at the drop of a hat?

Public speaking is a valuable tool that is used in almost every discipline in life.  My Human Communications class was a bit of a stretch for me at first.  I have spoken publicly before and crowds do not scare me. But, I did not know how much more there was to giving a memorable speech.  In this class I learned to organize, add PowerPoint and other visuals, cite sources, all leading to a cohesive presentation.  I used these new found skills the next semester, when I had to give an oral presentation on my research paper for Writing II.  The peer review for my speech was all positive and my grade was one of of the highest in the class.  Had I not learned how to write and deliver a speech in Communications class, I would never have been able to succeed in presenting my research paper in Writing class.

College writing is no book report.  And this was apparent in my College Writing I class.  I learned so much in this class, it would be impossible for me to list it all.  Among the most practical skills I learned was how to divide large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks, and how to find evidence to support my opinion in the reading assignments.  Forming an opinion and turning it into a thesis for the paper was extremely difficult for me.  Let’s face it, no one has asked for my opinion in the last 35 years, let alone, cared why I have that opinion.  But I had a great professor who was patient, and persistent, and I found that I like giving my opinion.  I like reading an assignment and deciding for myself what it means, or if I agree or disagree with the author.  I really like being able to provide solid evidence from the reading itself to support my opinion, because it makes my opinion essential, not arbitrary.  Every high grade I received on writing assignments in other classes are a direct result of what I learned in this class.

Global music is not just sound and composition.  It is more about the people and culture that created the music.  This class opened up a whole new view of the world population for me.  A reference to Papua New Guinea on a news report in Media class made more sense, because I had a cursory understanding of the local culture that I learned in music class.  I made connections through music to places and people I had only read about before.  Rachel’s friends were impressed when I instantly knew the difference between a sitar and a sarod, and the different cultures of India that they come from.  Ethan’s friends were awed that I could identify Mongolian Throat singing in “The Incredible Hulk” movie.  Of all my first semester classes, Global music made me feel the most intelligent.  And I like feeling smart.

Colleges are tasked with teaching information and skills, but must not lose sight of fostering critical thinking  and new ideas.  I learned so many new skills and information in the first semester, but most crucial was that I learned to think differently.  To consider more than one interpretation or opinion on a given subject.  After a lifetime of being a wife, mother, office worker, and a member of the military, I have found my voice. I can express my ideas and say what I think, without fear of being dismissed or poked fun at.  I can make a convincing argument and follow through.  I am realizing a dream I had since I was a child.  I am a scholar!

How cool is that?