85: Back to School

85: Back to School

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Back to School

The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.

~Sydney J. Harris

As I prepared for bed that night, my mirror showed a middle-aged, slightly overweight woman, graying at the temples, skin yet unlined. Everyone said I looked younger than my forty-five years, but I knew my age. And sometimes, like tonight, I felt every year of it.

I had always aspired to get a degree, but raising a family had taken priority. Now with my last child in middle school, I thought, why not try to achieve something while I still had the opportunity — and the mental capacity. When Bob returned that weekend from a business trip, I showed him the flyer.

He frowned as he studied it. “Is it time for John to apply to college?” He was referring to our second son, who was in high school.

I shook my head. “It’s not for John. It’s for me.”

“For you?” A broad smile lit up his face and his arm came around me. “I’m proud of you.”

“Are you sure? I mean, you’re away so much…”

He placed a finger on my lips. “If that’s what you want, we’ll make it work.”

The kids had mixed reactions. Our daughter, already in cosmetology school, thought it a great idea. Our John was horrified that we might be in college at the same time. James, our youngest, wanted to know who would take him to football practice. I explained that things would be a little different, but if everyone chipped in, it wouldn’t be difficult. Then Bob surprised me by saying he would make some adjustments so he could be home more.

The next day we drove to the community college and picked up a course catalog. I confided in my friends, and they all advised me to go into the medical field, where jobs are always available. I had no interest in the medical field, so after careful research and talking to several people, I chose to major in occupational therapy.

Days passed in a flurry of excitement, enrolling in classes, shopping for supplies and attending orientation. I felt like a kid again, but as the first day of classes drew near, I became petrified. I was simply too old. I really didn’t want to study any more. My home would fall apart. People would laugh at me. Finally, after much prayer and with encouragement from my family and friends, I stuck with my decision.

As I walked into the building that first morning, I saw groups of students looking no older than my son John sitting on the floor in the hallways. I had not sat on the floor in years. I entered my classroom and scanned it anxiously for people my age. I saw a few. I chose a seat way in the back, hoping to avoid attention.

The professor came in, introduced himself, and began writing on the board. During a pause in his lecture, he looked directly at me and said, “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” I could have died, but no one seemed to notice. For the rest of that day, I did what I saw the other students do, and gradually, my self-consciousness faded. I found the classes and assignments interesting, and I left that day feeling I might survive. By the end of the first week, I had made a few friends — some older, some younger.

I knew that studying and keeping up with my duties at home would be challenging, but I wasn’t prepared for how much. When Bob was away, I had to chauffeur the kids to their various activities. No sooner would I begin to study than it was time to put down my books and grab my car keys. Math and science were never my strong subjects, so I devoted more time to those, and with the help of small study groups, I was able to make A’s. When the first semester ended, I had a 4.0 GPA and I was placed on the Dean’s List, the President’s List and the Honor Roll. I was elated. I had managed to hold my own with people half my age.

By the second year, Bob and the kids were all doing their share, and I had learned how to comfortably balance my school and home life. One of my professors encouraged me to join the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. That meant being involved in extracurricular activities, which would take away from my studying as well as my family time. But the benefits included scholarship funds, so I decided to join and I began to take honors classes.

I also enjoyed participating in as many activities as I could. I entered a writing contest and had my story published in the college magazine and even taught a class at a local elementary school. In English 102, we acted out the Oscar-nominated films for that year, and I drew some applause as Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption. My hard work paid off. I was awarded a scholarship to study for a bachelor’s degree.

As I drove away on the last day of school, I thought about what a difference returning to school had made in my life. That night I studied myself in the mirror. How different I looked! I had cut my hair, colored it, and shed the excess weight. I had more energy and enthusiasm for life than I could ever remember having. Even Bob commented on how much younger I looked. He spent more time at home, too.

Helping people do simple things, like bathing and dressing, which I took for granted, now seemed like my calling. I was hired by the hospital where I had done my internship. Fourteen years later, I’m still employed. It’s never too late to try again.

~Angela Joseph

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