Monday, August 3, 2009

What now?

Last night I completed the last paper and the last final for my last class as an undergrad. September 12th I'm set to walk across the stage for my BS in Business Management.


How'd I get here?

Back in 1985...WAY BACK... I accepted a scholarship from Converse College in Spartanburg, SC. I was only 17 when I graduated from high school and went away to study music at Converse. In hindsite I was completely unprepared for life on my own. I was way over my head. It didn't take long for me to realize that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I came home shortly after my 18th birthday and went from hanging out with debutantes to working in a grocery store.

In 1986, at 18 and pregnant with my first child, I went back to school. This time I was staying home and playing it safe. I went to sign up for a marketing program at Columbus Tech and they talked me into studying Mechanical Engineering Technology instead. I really didn't know what that meant but they assured me that I was suited for it so I jumped in with both feet. I made great friends and spent a great couple of semesters taking classes but when I got chickenpox 2 weeks before Kevan was born, I couldn't go to school and lost my spot.

I spent a couple of years working in the banking industry and turning 21. All my friends were graduating from college and I was working and doing my best to be a parent even though I wasn't really sure what that really meant back then.

When my daughter was in kindergarten I met my future ex-husband. (Ironically, I referred to him that way from the start.) In 1993, married and pregnant with my second child, I went back to school again. This time I was at Columbus College/State and just taking classes for fun. I took my ENG101 class and then Trig and Calculus. By the time I finished Calculus I had already had my third child and school just got to be too much with three kids at home.

Fast forward to 2004. Divorced. Four kids. Working full-time at the hospital as a systems analyst. People all around me were working on their masters degrees and I still didn't have my bachelors. I took a long lunch and went back to Columbus Tech to enroll in the associates program for Management and Supervisory Development. They assured me I could do the whole thing online and that I'd neve have to stress over parking. Sounded reasonable and an hour later I was a student again.

I did about 18 months worth of work towards my associates degree and then the HOPE grant ran out. (I know the grant only pays for non-degree programs but you can use it to get all the classes that are shared by both programs out of the way and then transfer over to the degree program.) I couldn't afford to keep going and they didn't do a wonderful job of explaining financial aid so I left college for the fourth time.

Two things happened in 2006. First, I was evicted from my house. Facing the possibility of being homeless was a big wake up call and it showed me that once and for all I needed to get on the ball and get this education thing over with. Second, three people who I have a lot of respect for started going to (or were graduating from!) the University of Phoenix. I had looked at UOP a few years back and the cost was way too high for what I considered a second rate education.

Then I saw the difference that UOP was making in my friends' lives. One friend was finishing up his undergrad degree in IT management. Seeing the transformation that took place in him was amazing. He won't admit to it but he really grew in those few short years. He was starting his masters program and I realized that I was going to be completely left behind all my peers if I didn't get on the ball.

I made the appointment to talk to an enrollment counselor and we started the paperwork to get my financial aid and student loans started. Two weeks later I walked into a classroom for the first time in 12 years and was scared out of my mind. The thing that I found most amazing was that everyone else was just as scared...or MORE afraid...than I was. These were not your typical college students. We were all older and had more going on than the average 18 year old fresh out of high school.

Three years later I look back on my first team. Kym, Tovelle, Johulyn, and I were Team C. I got us t-shirts to wear for our final presentation. "Cool Cats Conquering College" They were pink. LOL We rocked. Sadly, I just looked for the three of them on Facebook and they're not there.

Classes came and went. Teams were formed, and tears were shed. I found out that you get out of an education what you put into it and my opinion of the University of Phoenix completely changed.

My cap and gown arrived last week.

It was hard to take it out of the box and look at it. Trying it on still harder.

So much has changed since I started out as a student 24 years ago. I have four wonderful children who mean the world to me. They probably wouldn't be here if I had graduated at 21 and become a famous opera singer. I have wonderful friends that I've made along the way. People who have changed my opinons and opened my eyes and helped me to make incredible memories.

And my mom is gone. I know she'll be there with me in spirit but it still hurts to think that she's missing out on all this. My dad and my sister will be there. I thank God for them every day. We've all been through so much in the last couple of years.

Here's the thing... The best is yet to come. God has a plan and everything happens for a reason. It's not up to us to know what the reason is and sometimes it takes 24 years to figure out why things happened the way they did. Things have been tough at times but it's the hard stuff that makes us stronger. Through the tears and the laughter we become who we're supposed to be.

Congratulations to my fellow graduates of the Class of 2009.

God bless you all...