Monday, August 29, 2005

When I Went Back to School

Your Monday Photo Shoot: It's back to school season. Show us a picture of something that represents "Back to School" to you. Kids on their way to school, a stack of new text books, school supplies, parents leaping for joy... oh, wait, maybe not that last one.

No, I did not graduate that year.(Hey, look!  I found some more pictures of me with my mom!) 

The picture to the right is a lie - an accidental lie, but a lie nonetheless.  On the basis of four incompletes, all involving English papers I didn't write, I failed to graduate from Syracuse University on May 12th, 1979, exactly one week before my wedding day.  On May 20th, I left Syracuse for Columbus, Ohio with my new husband.  I later made up one of the incompletes from Columbus.  Judging from my transcript, though, Dr. B. never recorded the grade.  It doesn't matter.  The head of the English Lit. department insisted that I would have to take her Chaucer course all over again, "because the scholarship has changed."  I was clearly not going to be able to do that from Columbus, especially not while managing a used record and t-shirt shop and working at McDonald's on the side.  And that, apparently, was that.

But my parents both earned PhDs before I was born.  My dad is a retired dean from Syracuse University, where he was also Director of Continuing Education.  My mom was a clinical psychologist.  And I didn't even have my B.A.!  This made me uneasy, for years and years. 

Still, an English degree didn't seem that important when my master plan was to own a bookstore, and write novels and screenplays between customers.  It seemed even less relevant when I actually co-owned a record store, and wrote music articles at night.  Nevertheless, not having that semi-useless piece of paper felt like a failure.  It rankled.  Nor was I getting anywhere with my non-career as I lived the retail life, just over minimum wage. 

Eventually I did go back to school: not college, but travel agent school, Intensive Trainers Institute.  The year was1987.  From there I made my way into travel agenting.  It wasn't a high-paying job, but it paid much better than my two previous jobs as a video store clerk had.  Years later I became a travel agency bookkeeper instead, but that's a story for another night.

In 2002, my mom was in and out of hospitals and other facilities.  I spent most of my time either at work, asleep, or caring for her in one way or another.  I'd been with Worldwide Travel for nine years, but given the shape of the travel industry after 9-11, the job no longer seemed secure.  After years of thinking about it, and years of seeing and hearing University of Phoenix ads, I decided to do what I had thought I'd never do.  I went back to school.  My goals were to redeem my old failure, to turn a relatively useless almost-degree in English and Film into a highly marketable degree in accounting, and to finally graduate from college while my overachieving parents were still alive.

My dad was cautiously pleased and very supportive of my going to University of Phoenix. He'd never given me grief about not graduating, but he thought this was a good idea, as long as I really wanted to do it and would follow through.

Mom was not at all happy about it, though, and I couldn't figure out why.  Finally I asked her.  There was a long pause, and then she said, "Because I'm afraid you'll fail." That was not at all what I wanted to hear.  But she was clinically depressed and suffering from dementia, and she'd seen me fail to do it once before.  I think there was also some jealousy there.  Every minute spent in class or studying was a minute not spent with her.

GEN 300 textbooks, October-December 2002.These are the textbooks that went with my first UoP course, GEN 300: Skills for Professional Development (11/18/02 - 12/16/02). It was an orientation course, really.  It was all about lifelong learning and learning styles, MLA and APA papers and how not to plagiarize, time management and team dynamics - in other words, all the ground rules for what the University expected of us over a next couple of years.

I have a problem with personality profile stuff, because it usually tries to fit everyone into boxes, and doesn't really take into account the enormous range of human behavior, even within a single individual.  I'd never worked with a team before, but the University believes in learning teams. I found this a little silly and arbitrary, at least at first, but it works pretty well when you're not stuck with slackers or pushy people.  As for the style book, well, I was pleased to discover that I could indeed write a paper according to the assigned format.  I would not be getting any more incompletes.

Aside from some silly metaphors and exercises (e.g. the Six Learning Hats) I was all for the lifelong learning idea itself.  Still am. Learning new and different things throughout life helps to keep the brain functioning and stave off dementia.  It's also interesting.  Besides, I think it's out responsibility as human beings to learn as much as we can, rather than act out of ignorance, or blindly obey authority or our own habits. If I have a vocation in life, it's to disseminate information, even if some of it is information about a fictional world.  An accounting degree would help me to synthesize and disseminate a different kind of information, and get paid reasonably well for doing it.

But I digress.

My biggest problem in that first course had to do with the instructor.  He was a great guy and a very good teacher, but somehow he and I couldn't seem to get on the same page about what he expected from my papers.  I was still upset and worried about this on the weekend before my last class of the course.  Saturday night, December 14th, I griped about the problem at length to my mom, laying most of the blame on my instructor.  My mom, who had spent much of the past month only semi-conscious, was more responsive that night, and listened patiently.

That was the last time my mom ever spoke to me.  The next morning, her caregiver, Rosa, could not wake her.  The doctors thought the cause was a stroke (or possibly overmedication, but that didn't pan out).

My mom died Monday morning, December 16th, 2002.  As I waited for her to die, I read over my paper again, and decided there was nothing more I could do to make it good enough.  I explained this in thevoicemail I left for the instructor about my mom's death.  The rest of the day was taken up with family and funeral arrangements.

But that night, I went back to school, and did my part of a team presentation.  My instructor made an excuse to let me out of class early; apparently, the death of one's mother is not sufficient cause for such lenience under UoP guidelines.  I filled out a course-end questionnaire, and hightailed it for the airport to meet my dad.

This book is still useful.And oh, yeah - I got an A in the course.

I walked in my second college graduation ceremony on March 19th, 2005.  My dad was there to see me do it.

I wish I could say I now have diploma in hand (although that would make it hard to type!), but no, I don't.  See, I still need to fill out a "Financial Aid Exit Interview" form.  I need to go back to school and see the financial aid people, and get that taken care of.  But as with the Chaucer course so long ago, that's a little tricky to do while working full time.

Implements of future study.At this moment, I have no plans for grad school, although it could still happen if I find a pressing reason to do it.  If I go back to school again, it's more likely to be some sort of CPA review course, either online or a self-directed program.  I also have some thick, expensive review books to study from.  But you know what? My drive to study for that exam has largely dissipated, first because I wanted a break after finishing the BS/B-Acc, and later because I got my new job.  Will I ever become a CPA?  I don't know yet.  But if I do, there's a good chance that's I'll have to go back to school after all, one way or another.


My next school may be my computer - for a price. 
My next school may be my laptop!

P.S. I found my scooter pictures!  Tomorrow night after midnight I'll be posting my Round Robin Photo Challenge entry (subject:"labor"), but I'll finally have my scooter stories for you Wednesday night.


alphawoman1 said...

I remember your entry about graduation and your dad! Love the sun glasses on your Mom! It takes real gumption to go back to school. A great accomplishment. I hae thought about grad school off and on in that past.....nah. Still have those nightmares about not graduating and having to return for a class on a campus I wander around.

pixiedustnme said...

funny what stories a little thing like a photo assignment will make you talk about!

gotomaria said...

Hi, there,  

I read your story of the journey to get that college degree with I would like to encourage you to not rest until you have that diploma in your hands! You can make it happen and then take a picture of brings closure and that alone is so important.....right now it's a loose end dangling....we have so many loose ends in our lives.....good luck with it and celebrate what you have accomplished so is very good!

ryanagi said...

Get thee to Financial Aid, woman! I want to see that sheepskin! :-)