I went back to community college in 2007. That’s almost five years now. No wonder I’m tired! Five years of juggling family, work, school – of sitting all day at work to come home and sit at a desk til midnight (or later); of scheduling every family detail and every weekend in order to try to leave enough time for studying.; of trying to minimize everyone’s sacrifices. Going back to college – whatever the method – is no walk in the park for the adult learner.
Kids and jobs and classes, oh my!
In my first draft of this post, I was busy waxing philosophic. Then I decided that I was being overly dramatic, so now I am going the Oz route instead. Rather than talk about my need to figure out where I left my enthusiasm for the destination – after all, it’s got to be around here somewhere – I am going to recognize my partners in the journey. After all, today is that day where everything is all covered in hearts and chocolate and mushy love stuff. Besides, who wants to read a dark and depressing monologue on paralyzing life intersections and how-did-I-get-here-anyways? The answer is nobody.
I remember the first time I admitted – out loud – that I was thinking of going back to college. We had just taken one of our girls on a weekend college tour. I was doubtful of myself and of my capacity to be successful in an academic environment. I had a heap of past unpleasant experiences to overcome. Thank goodness for reassurance from the love of my life, who was not. For five years now – through full sinks of dishes, and piles of books everywhere, and overflowing hampers of laundry, and late night homework marathons, and my document just disappeared panic attacks – he has never wavered in his unending support for me or my pursuit of self-actualization through higher education. I am very grateful. I could never have gotten this far and I would not be writing this now, if not for him.
Several years ago (it’s always so much longer than it seems), he and I bought a house that would fit all our kids and, for a while, it was like a never-ending Weather Channel special on devastating storms around here. Now, just the baby is left at home, while everyone else has gone and become an adult when I wasn’t looking. The house is quiet now. In fact, it’s so quiet that we brought home two kittens just to get some chaos going. Sometimes I wonder what I miss(ed) with my nose buried in a book or the computer all the time. They tell me that it’s ok and that they understand. They support me and tell me that they know I can do it. And when I see them working so hard in their own endeavors, they tell me that they have had a good example to follow. I am grateful for their unconditional love.
Since my return to higher education, I have serendipitously come in contact with many wonderful people. They are my mentors, my friends, my peers. Whenever someone says that learning online is isolating, I always say that it doesn’t have to be, that it shouldn’t be that way. So, today, I want to tell every one of you how grateful I am for your presence in my life. This is for the teachers who continue to support, guide, and inspire me long after our class has closed. This is for the staff and administrators who give their time so generously and remain accessible and open and willing to help. This is for the peers who listen to me complain and lend a shoulder to cry on. I am grateful for every one of you. Thank you.
Some people are social butterflies. I am not. Those of you who only know me online may be surprised to find out that I am an introvert. Not only that, but I suck at being a friend. I have one lifelong friend and I am convinced that we remain friends only because she is the greatest person on the planet and that sort of makes up for my tremendous personal shortcomings and lack of social skills. She still picks up the phone even after I have forgotten to send her a birthday card! Twenty years ago, nobody would have ever guessed that we would be graduate students at the same time and in similar programs, her studying international education and me studying adult and distance education. We don’t see each other nearly enough. (Last night she still had a Christmas present for me in the back of her car while I stood empty-handed.) But, I can tell her that I don’t know what I am doing and she assures me that I will figure it out – that I always do – and for that I am very grateful.
Last week when my friend called to ask me if I wanted her second ticket to attend a discussion with the Reverend Jesse Jackson at Lehigh University, I stammered a bit. “Jesse Jackson”, I asked, then there was a really long pause. Sure, I knew the basic 411 on him, but what would he have to say about higher education? And would he say it from “the pulpit”? Well, at least I had the presence of mind to say, “let me do some research.” I found a full-length interview on YouTube from last year where the context was higher education. I called her back less than ten minutes into the recording and accepted her kind invitation. I guess if college has taught me anything, it is to question my own assumptions, and that is a really important lesson to learn.
And so, last night, we sat in an auditorium and listened to Rev. Jesse Jackson answer questions from faculty and students and the public for two hours. I really can’t describe the experience. Of course, one expects him to be educated, to be an experienced story-teller, but I never expected his unique combination of compassion, and honesty, and sharp wit, and sense of humor. Even at 70 years-old, he never missed a beat. He was truly inspirational.
And so, to honor him, I wanted to come home and write something profound. Something that people would read and say, wow, there’s a lot of great thinking going on here. Unfortunately, I keep finding myself coming up short in the thinking department these days. It’s sort of like my head is full of cotton. My heart, however, is always working overtime. So, today, I am going to depend on my heart to do the heavy lifting that my brain is just too tired to do.
Last night, Rev. Jesse Jackson reminded us to never underestimate the power of one light to challenge the darkness. All of you, my family and friends, are the lights in my life, because my life would not be the same without you. I am truly blessed. And I challenge everyone who reads this post – whenever that may be – to show gratitude today to the people who shine the light in your own life, not just because today everything is decorated with red hearts and mushy love stuff, but because gratitude illuminates the darkness.