For many, the motivation to earn a college degree is strongly associated with a specific career goal and typically happens before a mid-life crisis. My own journey has led me to wonder in which drawer I will safely tuck away the diploma I will receive this spring — just a few months shy of my fifty-first birthday.
I suppose I fall conveniently within a group of students often referred to as “non-traditional,” and oddly so, because tradition is very much a word with which I identify. We students, the ones who arrived on campus (or online) already shaped by our seasoned and storied pasts, are a group of dynamic individuals as diverse as the subjects we study. Our interpretation of success and the paths that lead us to it may differ widely, but we are each connected by a shared motivation toward personal growth.
Admittedly, I have often felt more like the antithesis to the college-minded community than a worthy subject for a literary piece about “adult learners;” nonetheless, I am here to share with you an unsullied tale of intellectual reward and personal achievement — both of which have nothing (and everything) to do with my freshly-inked diploma.
We students, the ones who arrived on campus (or online) already shaped by our seasoned and storied pasts, are a group of dynamic individuals as diverse as the subjects we study.”
SJC in the 80s
My early college career began in the 1980s when cars and hairstyles were big, and bottled water was nary a twinkle in the eye of consumerism. I transferred from a larger SUNY school to St. Joseph’s College, where I studied English, fueled by aspirations to author award-winning children’s books. Life choices and circumstances dictated an incomplete and early departure from college, and the classroom wouldn’t see my return for almost two decades.
When I am honest with myself, I recognize that as a young adult, I was ill prepared to confirm what I wanted to be, likely because I wasn’t yet sure of who I was. I lacked skills and experience, but perhaps most importantly, I lacked a deeper awareness of life and community beyond my own. In hindsight, I realize I was precisely the person for whom college is designed — one who is searching, uncertain, curious, but above all, optimistic.
One marriage, two children and almost twenty years later, I was invited by a friend and mentor to apply for an open position within Student Life at St. Joseph’s College. I left the banking industry to accept employment as administrative support, and thus began a new and improved relationship with the college life I had left behind many moons before. At that time, and still today, I hold my roles as wife and mother as the most challenging and most important ones I will fulfill. My return to SJC, however, offered a refreshed and promising view of my limitless potential, and a reintroduction to a community of individuals ready to walk beside me on a more academic path to success.
There will always be more to learn, but the truest test of my growth and understanding will be measured by my actions, and by my willingness to share valued lessons with others through daily example.”
A Return to SJC
I could not have anticipated my swift adaptability to — and love for my role within — Student Affairs. And so admittedly, I wavered in my decision to finally earn a degree. With some cajoling, I enrolled in classes, endured the discomfort of first-day apprehension (more than once, I was mistakenly approached by younger classmates believing I was the instructor), and embraced my role as the older, “non-traditional” student. Simultaneously, my oldest child was graduating college and my youngest was just embarking on his own college career. Unlike their mother, they were driven toward specific disciplines and wasted no time in declaring majors.
Some might suggest my choice to enroll in General Studies indicates a lack of focus or commitment. I am, however, in the good company of other adult learners seeking an education that supports one’s development as a Quality Human Being; I suppose while others are driven to achieve M.B.A.s or Ph.D.s, I am more apt to pursue the more elusive and unobtainable QHB. Thus began my journey through a myriad of subjects, each carefully chosen to expand self-awareness and provide a greater understanding of my role in both the local and global community.
From my first course to the very last, I’ve gleaned invaluable lessons that have changed the trajectory of my own life. Much of my existence has been shaped by a deep dedication to faith, and I have gleaned great insight from favorite courses within Religious Studies. My lifelong love affair with both the written word and our natural world allowed me to ambitiously engage in courses focused upon literature and environment. Business courses, once appealing for their practicality, shed light on the needs of an ever-changing workforce and incited action among fellow students in support of the differently abled.
I stand happily among a growing community of adult learners, and I encourage those considering enrollment to take the first step towards personal growth and achievement.”
What SJC Has Given Me
Such experiences are the products of the real and true connections I’ve made with others through meaningful classroom debate, online discussion and friendly discourse in hallways between classes. I have been fortunate to enjoy the conveniences of working and attending classes on the same campus, and I am especially humbled by peers who commute between work, home and college, all while balancing the relentless demands of adulthood. They are the true masters of life’s indispensable obligations, and they are the litmus by which I test my own fortitude.
My own observations outside the classroom continue to provide me with revelations that guide me toward a reputable and more meaningful existence. The ones to which I most often refer serve to provide a bit of humility in moments when and where it is lacking:
- Improving one’s public speaking skills is a worthy endeavor. Improving one’s public listening skills is a far more noble task.
- Even the most brilliant and advanced technologies will never suffice as replacements for human interaction.They serve to remind us how significantly productivity suffers when connections are lost. If there is one single achievement for which universally we must strive, it is the preservation of community through a renewed commitment to being good neighbors.
- We must be careful to avoid becoming too besotted by letters that precede or follow one’s name; lest we forget the explorers, inventors and artists of our past who made boundless sacrifice, ground-breaking discoveries and untold contributions to society with few documented credentials.
For these insights, and so many more, I am grateful to have had the opportunity and ability to return as a student, to grow as an individual and to complete my first degree. And though my diploma serves as a valued token of my success, it could never fully convey the significance of such achievement and the responsibility inherent to it. There will always be more to learn, but the truest test of my growth and understanding will be measured by my actions, and by my willingness to share valued lessons with others through daily example.
I stand firmly in my belief that the knowledge and wisdom gained solely from academic study pales in comparison to the life experience an engaged college education affords — at any age. I stand happily among a growing community of adult learners, and I encourage those considering enrollment to take the first step towards personal growth and achievement.
And should you find yourself in need of a diploma frame, you can have mine; I’m saving wall space for that QHB.