I am finally finished with my spring semester, and, as of this morning, I have 110 credits toward my bachelor’s degree. That means that the amount of credits I’ve earned at the University of Hartford now equals the amount of credits that transferred from my stint at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), and I have ten credits left to complete. I will be done with my degree this December—God willing. Those of you who know me know that I am not a religious person, but I can’t stop myself from saying “God willing”. My grandmother adds that qualifier (she says, in Portuguese, Se Deus quiser, which literally translates to “If God wants it”) to anything someone might do: going on vacation, buying a car, getting the mail, etc. I picked up that superstition because I refuse to take anything for granted. After all, it’s been a long, tough path to this piece of paper.
I don’t remember when I knew I was going to college. When I was very little I wanted to be a model, actress, or professional wrestler’s wife (like Miss Elizabeth, may she always rest in peace), so college must not have been on my mind. But I know I was preparing for college around the eighth grade. I remember getting my major subject level placements (mostly level one, which was for kids who didn’t “apply themselves” enough for honors classes and kids whose parents argued they were way too smart for level two) for freshman year of high school and thinking about how they would affect my chances at getting into a good college. At that time I assumed I would go to UConn like my sister.
Throughout high school I continued to not apply myself (yes, I was that kind of kid), and I had the grades to show for it. Eventually I decided a school like UConn was too large and sports-oriented for my taste, but I never could have gotten in, anyway. After using all the fancy, computer-based tools that the guidance department of the early 2000s had to offer, I applied to five schools around New England. I chose MCLA because it was small (barely more students than my high school), cute, and quirky. I saw myself fitting in there, tucked away in the Berkshires. And I think I did for a short while.
Knowing that I did not graduate from that school, I think you can imagine what happened, or did not happen. Once again I did not “apply myself” (the more I write that, the weirder it looks: I’m picturing myself as a very large tube of mascara or stick of deodorant). I did well in some of my courses (mostly creative writing, my concentration), but very poorly in others. I could not find the motivation for schoolwork, preferring to goof around with friends or my boyfriend (who actually had very good grades). By the end of my “junior” year, I only had seventy-seven credits. By that point I had also alienated just about all of my friends by being my ornery, difficult self. Over the following summer I decided not to return to school, and I broke up with that boyfriend around a year later.
Fast forward six years later to 2011. At that point I had been working at my position as a receptionist for about four years. I had applied twice for a promotion: the first time the position was eliminated, the second I was told I did not have enough experience. I started to feel discouraged. Look, I am not a genius, but I do know the titles for most of the original Twilight Zone episodes. Some day I would like to do a bit more career-wise than answer a phone.
I had thought about going back to school, but I was terrified to do so. Teachers in grade school always drilled into us the idea of developing proper study skills. They said if you didn’t develop them early on that you’d have no foundation to do well in high school or college. Well, I had not developed those skills, and I had not done well in high school or college, so I was pretty sure it was not possible for me to change my course.
My other half, Rob, was the one who convinced me to go back to school. I don’t remember what he said, but I imagine he nagged and nagged, and then at some point took my face into his hands and said, “Look at me!” followed by something inspirational. I had heard on the radio about the University of Hartford’s degree completion program, so I filled out the form on their website to request more information. I believe it took one of the directors of the program, Karen Sullivan, around three minutes to contact me. I still was not completely sold on the idea of starting school again, but she kept in touch with me until I relented.
I was terribly nervous when I started. I think people have had easier times dropping their kids off for the first day of kindergarten than Rob had dropping me off for my first class. I was so sure I would fail, but at least I had taken the first step. At least I was trying. I finished that semester with an A and a A-minus.
To be honest, that fear has not dissipated much as the semester have come and gone. Each semester there is something I am positive I can’t do. I didn’t think I could pass my math and lab science requirements after getting D’s in those courses at MCLA (hence the reason I had to take them again). I didn’t think I could manage Medical Writing, Psychology Applied in the Workplace, or Introduction to Organizational Communications. No, I did not even trust myself to be introduced to the subject. I hardly trusted myself to catch a bus from my job to the campus! Yet, and I don’t mean to toot my own horn, I passed all of those courses with pretty good grades. I was even inducted into one of the honors societies--a very surreal experience for me, the student who never “applied herself” before.
So here I am—God willing—very close to getting a degree I’ve been working toward for half my life. After all the late nights, financial aid forms, Red Bulls, frozen pizzas, tears, questionable commas, and overpriced textbooks, I am only ten measly credits away. I’m excited, but I’m still terrified. I am torn between asking my doctor about Cymbalta and planning my ‘90s-themed graduation party. I’m still not sure what I will be doing when (God willing) I am done with school. Right now my ultimate career goal is to have someone answer my phone.