My next venture into college life was the summer after I graduated. I had not been a stellar high school student, so part of the condition for my acceptance was taking a summer course to prove that I could handle it. This time I took a philosophy course and once again managed to pass the class with a B. However, I realized that my focus really wasn't on academics and that it would be a struggle to prioritize. Whether it was selfishness or maturity that motivated me, I had a long discussion with my parents and decided to delay pursuing a college education until I was ready.
By the time I returned, I was no longer a traditional student. It had been nearly three years since I graduated high school, and in that time I had managed to get married and give birth to a son. It was his birth, the ups and down of a rocky marriage, and a dim future that led me to the conclusion that I would need to go back in order to be able to give him or myself any sort of meaningful life. I jumped in full time taking 5 courses. I still had not decided on a major, but I knew that it was the right time. Despite no support from my husband, I was able to take care of my 1-year-old son and be a successful student, earning A's and B's. For the first term, my mother would watch my son while I was in class. About halfway through the term, he had to have a major orthopedic surgery, and I completed much of my studying by his bedside while he recovered. The second term I had to put him in daycare three days a week. I spent many late nights typing out papers on an old typewriter. I wasn't able to engage in any social activities or empathize with my fellow students. I felt very alone as I navigated the academic rigors of college, but I never thought about just how different I was.
I had planned on returning the next semester, but my parents had moved over a thousand miles away. My marriage continued to disintegrate, and when my husband was laid off, I felt that it would be nearly impossible for us to survive or for me to continue my classes unless I had more support. We moved to Florida, and I waited for over a year to return to school. Nevertheless, I was more determined than ever to succeed, so when I did return, I jumped in full time. Now, not only was I married and a mother, but also a good 5-6 years older than my fellow students. My life experiences had forced me to mature quickly, and I didn't have the same distractions as those who shared the classroom with me. My second full year of college was filled with 5-6 classes per term, a full time job at McDonald's, and the emotional turmoil of a broken marriage and subsequent separation. I moved back in with my parents for help. I kept my job for two reasons: first because I had no financial support from my estranged husband and two because I wanted a real reminder of why college was so important. Every day as I would look at my 4-year-old or work the drive-thru, I was reminded that I did not want the rest of our lives to be a struggle. That was perhaps my best year in terms of grades. I earned nearly a perfect 4.0, with the exception of one horrible physical science class where I earned a B.
After completing enough coursework to earn and A. A., I transferred to a university. At that point I had decided that I wanted to become an English teacher. The transition between majors and schools created a slight problems as I had not completed some of the coursework I would need. This required me to continue my enrollment of 5 classes per term in addition to some summer classes. Before it all began, I had taken leave from work to spend the summer with my son; I decided not to return knowing that the demands were too much. Nevertheless, with persistence and determination, and the support of my mother who cared for my son while I was in class, I was able to complete the rest of my degree in two years. During that time I sat by my son's bedside after more surgeries and divorced my husband. Although there were a few students in the program like me, I was very much alone. I spent little time on the bustling campus and never had the time or ability to participate in any of the activities. I did not share the dating woes and gossip of many of my peers nor attended the parties. It wasn't that I was not invited, I just had other commitments at home. Many of my peers could not understand that or step into my mindset. Although it was lonely at times, it was also good that I did not have the distractions that other college students face. I had a much more tangible goal than many of them- to be able to graduate and support myself and my son. That is probably one of the many reasons I was so successful as a college student. I earned all A's and B's (with the exception of one C). I completed my degree in 4 years total, and I knew what I was doing after graduation.
So here I am again, 13 years after earning a bachelor's degree, returning to the same university in order to earn a second. It won't take much time as I only need 8 classes, and technology has advanced so much that I will be able to complete most of the coursework online. I am a different person now. Not only do I have ambition, but I also have the real-life experience of teaching for nearly a decade. I am re-married, and my son is almost 20, pursuing his own college degree. One thing that is similar is that I have a 3-year-old at home, a little girl. My perspective has changed in so many ways from being a parent and a professional, and I will be 40 in less 17 days. I am a non-traditional student once again, but this time so are many of the students in my online classes. There are people who work jobs and raise children. One is a single mom of three kids with a 9-7 job. Another is a married father with two young children who lives hours away. The online courses are filled with non-traditional students who each have different stories. Most are trying to balance a life of family and work with the demands of school in the hope that when they finish they will be in a better place.
I don't mind being a non-traditional student. Sometimes it can be lonely, and it is difficult to empathize with the needs and concerns of the more traditional- this makes group work a special challenge. Honestly, it is all I have known really. And I attribute a large part of my success to my circumstances in life that made me non-traditional.