Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wednesday Night / Class Night

Sunday on the plane home from Denver I leaned into the headrest, eyes closed, and thought ahead to the coming week. Ok, I'll get home tonight around 11, tomorrow is Monday....that's the night I meet with my study group, do I have my part of this week's presentation done?? Was I supposed to email PowerPoint slides to Molly?? Quiz?? Do I need to study for the qui.......................heyyyyyyyyyy!!! Wait JUST a minute...........I'm done with school.

It's been one week since our last class. I wonder how Jolene's new job is going. Has Paula gotten back out on the dance floor yet? Shaylon's girls have to be happy to have mom home on Wednesday nights and I hope Kelli keeps sending me pictures of baby Makenna. Jerry is udoubtedly suntanned and smiling on his beach holiday, while Molly is kicking up her heels in Vegas to celebrate her graduation. I'm sure all us girls wonder what on earth Todd is going to do now that he is no longer the Dude surrounded by team chicks, I understand Alisha and Heidi stayed out half the night singing karaoke and Paula still has another couple of classes to go, having missed a couple when her mom was so sick. No doubt in my mind Nick will be a Fortune 500 bigshot one of these days, Brian and his wife are hoping to start a family.

These are the only people that will really understand. We sat together in the same classroom every week for over two years. Here is how I described it in my final paper about the experience:

I arrive early most Wednesdays, often the first to drop my books and bags next to the chair where, not by any instructor direction, but simply by habit, I sit every night of class and have for the past two and a half years. Often Paula arrives first and I walk in to find her eating her dinner, cruising the Internet. The third floor room is quiet for a few minutes and then my classmates begin to wander in, carrying not only their computers and books, but the burdens of a full work day and life they must try and leave at the door for the next four hours as we learn.

I’ll bring my camera next week. Chances are I’ll not run into these people again, at least not often. Despite the fact that most of us have lived in the same city for years, I met each one of them for the first time in this space.

“Hi, my name is Jerry. I’ve been with Qwest for over 20 years.”

“I’m Jolene. I’m a paralegal and I also work as a home respite caregiver.”

One by one, we introduced ourselves that first night. Name. Occupation. Ambitions. We are a diverse group of men and women and one by one our stories have unfolded over the months. Kelli and Kristi had their babies. Molly lost her job. Shaylon kept working on her business plan. How quickly the months have passed. Friends say to me, “I can’t believe you’re almost done, it seems like just yesterday you were starting school….”

Others understand just exactly what a long haul it’s been. Nearly every Sunday, 48 weeks out of the year, spent at Barnes and Noble, drinking Starbucks all afternoon as I struggled over algebra and accounting with my little calculator has taken its toll on my social life. I ran into a long-lost acquaintance just yesterday afternoon. I hadn’t seen him for years,
“Are you remarried yet??” he asked.

Oh please. Make me laugh. My divorce was final three months before I enrolled in school and my head has been in books ever since. Remarried?? Seriously??? With the only likely candidates the mohawk’d barista that brews my Mocha Latte and the guy who occasionally has to locksmith me into my house when I forget and leave my keys at school (in my car, in my desk at work, on the counter at Target…) the possibilities have been remote.

It’s almost over. When I walk about of this building for the last time, my classmates are the best memory I will take with me. We’ve been through a lot together. Looking back, I almost quit before I really got started…..

“You’re going to be on academic probation for the first six months because of your low high school GPA.” My advisor sat across the table from me and refused to listen to my explanation of the arcane grading system that the Des Moines Public Schools used in the 60’s and 70’s. Report cards bestowed 1’s, 2’s and 3’s instead of A’s, B’s and C’s with “1” being the “A” of my graduating class. Thus, my GPA of 1.3, which indicated a spot of honor in the upper 20% on the day I received my diploma, didn’t impress the nice folks at William Penn. Even when they received my transcript and it revealed that I was ranked 72 in a class of over 800---they laughed when I pointed out that their logic meant that over 700 of the graduating class of 1973 at Lincoln High School…..were failing. The people in the CWA office said they called the Des Moines Public Schools and were told I was wrong. My advisor pretty much called me a liar. I almost quit right there. It was a bad way to start out.

My first classes at William Penn left me wondering what I’d gotten myself into. They were easy. “Is this college?” I wondered. It was just too easy, easier than I expected. How could I be learning anything??? Maybe I’d chosen the wrong school, I wanted to learn---not just skate by four years for a piece of paper.

Of course, the classes got tougher. Eventually I realized those first courses, and a number of them to follow, were fairly easy for me because I’mreasonably smart, I read alot and I’ve been in the business world a long time. I’m sure, had I been a traditional-aged student experiencing the same courses, they would have been tougher. After a year or so I realized that raising teenagers, serving on community boards, supervising employees and even raising funds for the volunteer fire department are learning experiences in themselves. In truth, I never stopped learning. I’ve been a student since the day I walked across the stage and received my high school diploma. (In the upper 20% of my class, I might mention again, but seriously I’m over it.)

As I complete my studies in this program for working adults I now have the advantage of retrospect and I find that I have learned a tremendous amount, not all of which can be quantified by the completion of a course or the earning of a grade.

I learned the most from my classmates and our weekly interaction. From all walks of life, with experiences as diverse as our ethnic and cultural backgrounds, I couldn’t have anticipated the wealth of knowledge I would gain from knowing my classmates. Over the months we’ve shared our home lives, our backgrounds, our work experiences, our opinions, our hopes and our dreams with one another. We’ve questioned and coached one another, we’ve troubled over problems and presentations, assembled power point presentations and delivered innumerable speeches in front of one another. When one of us was struggling with algebra, another of us who was a math whiz stepped up to help us along. When the math folks stressed over compositions and written papers, those of us who can spell in our sleep edited papers. Of all the elements required to complete this program, meeting regularly with a study group troubled me the most. I have never liked committee work, team work. I have always preferred to work alone. From the first day in class I dreaded having to work as part of a team, realizing now that I’m a bit of a control freak and I didn’t want to hand over any of the controls to anyone else.

I have learned, as a result of this requirement, to collaborate and realize now that this is a valuable skill in today’s world. I still love to work alone. But I now understand the importance of being able to function as part of a group.

I have also learned a tremendous amount from the variety of instructors that visited our classrooms. Not all of them were what I would consider to be competent. Not all of them were interesting. A few of them were not even nice. But I have come to understand that competence, a great personality and an entertaining manner of delivery are not critical elements and I learned something from every one of my instructors. The majority of them were wonderful and I felt they really invested themselves in helping us learn. In particular I remember Dave Hudson’s ability to pull his chair into the center of a room and tell us stories about history in a way I’ve never experienced it. No podium. No PowerPoint. No video. Just one man’s ability to deliver his personal fascination with history into the minds of people who had already been up for 12 hours and worked an 8-hour day in the simplest way. I wished his classes had lasted for a year. Every time I walk past a classroom and see Dave inside with another class I still think to myself how lucky they are to be learning from him.

Earning my bachelors degree is a personal accomplishment of which I am immensely proud. It took courage for me to start school and perseverance to stick with it. I’ve done a lot of things in my life and the only thing that eclipses this experience in terms of personal achievement would be raising my kids. Raising babies is not for the faint of heart. And for sure, neither is starting college when you’re 46 years old. I'm so glad I've done both.

All I have to say at this point is...................bring on the homework-free weekends!!

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