“Tell me a little about yourself” were the words I dreaded from the teacher on the first day of my classroom experience as an adult learner. “Hi, I’m Heather,” said the student in the first seat on the right of the teacher. “I’m 20 years old, a junior at Ramapo, majoring in Communication Arts.” “Hi, I am David,” said the next student. “I’m 18 and do not know what I will be majoring in. When I graduate I want to be a tattoo artist. I am taking this class because my mother is making me.”
Now it is my turn. I am in front of a group of classmates about the age of my kids feeling like I’m at a party dressed in a toga while the rest of the girls are in sequined dresses and high heels. I stand up, look around the room and speak – “My name is Virginia. If you ask me my age, I will tell your mother you drink.” They laugh and I relax. “I am a third year student at Ramapo working towards a degree in Communication Arts with a concentration in Writing. I came back to school because I want a college degree and in something I would like to do when I retire. I like to write.”
A hundred years ago in high school, I started out thinking I would go to college. I was blocked in my Freshman year with Algebra. I just couldn’t get using symbols and formulas if I wasn’t going to build a better atomic bomb. I tried. I went for extra help, and my mother hire a tutor. The results were that I either passed tests by guessing correctly at the answers or failing them completely. Finally, my exasperated Algebra teacher, realizing I was a hopeless case, cut me a deal. He would pass me if I swore never to take another math class again. It sounded like a reasonable deal, so I agreed.
After that, my career was in administrative support positions where I climbed up the corporate ladder by working harder than the guy next to me and be willing to learn the ropes as I went along. I had a fairly successful career that way. In later years, however, the competition from the younger, technologically savvy generation became stronger, and I was losing my edge. At the age of 56 and with the financial support of my company’s tuition reimbursement program, I enrolled in college.
The first time on campus was no different that any other freshman’s. The parking lot was a hike, I got lost in the halls and, the cafeteria cashier charged me full price until she realized I was a student. I felt very alone but refused to ask for help.
As I continued to take more courses I found school so gratifying that I almost wished I was unemployed so I could attend more classes. I can’t say that every course was great. Maybe it was the sorry memory of high school Algebra, but Finance almost made me give up. Yet what kept me going was that all this schooling was awakening me to a part of today’s world. In some ways, college life was easier (I lived through many of what is being taught as history) and in some ways it was harder (it took me all of spring break to figure out how to embed a video in a slide show). Moments of gratification included my writing a blog about the history and development of online gaming that got the attention of my fanatical, Madden-playing 19 year old son.
In May 2013, I walked and took my diploma in Journalism. I felt like I just won the Nobel Peace Prize. I refused to be one of those who say “in my day I did this or I did not do that”. Nobody cares. Those rules are for those who live in the past. It isn’t so bad living today.