Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's Easier to Leave Than to Return

I work with non-traditional college students on a daily basis; this began at Day One of my career, when I was interning at a women's college that had recently taken on a bunch of workforce retraining program students from a sewing factory nearby. They were mostly in the evening program, so between the two night sessions, they were in the library. I was the night supervisor, so I was in close contact with them for the semester that I was there. When I transitioned to my first professional job at the state's only Historically Black University, we still had a similar student cohort. Later in the year, I accepted a position at a denominational college close to where I grew up, and for the first time I was dealing primarily with traditional first-time eighteen to twenty year-old students...then the sewing factory closed, sending my classmates, friends, and in many cases, their parents and grandparents flocking to the college.

I've been with the state community college system for eleven years. Non-trads are the norm. I've advised both, and honestly, the adults are more focused. They know what they have to do, and are highly self-directed about doing it. Soon, Hopkins will join this cohort at the regional university to which he dispatched me with a protracted good-bye and a pat on the head for the summer before my senior year of high school.

When you're eighteen and you've been programmed all your life for the moment that you waltz off to college, and thus, the rest of your future, it's expected. You go on autopilot. You have benchmarks. You have checklists. You do X,Y, and Z on a specified schedule, and without disruption, you march across a stage and accept your sheepskin four years later. It's taken for granted that you'll do this from rote, and everything will be all right.

If only it were that easy. It's easier to say your good-byes, give your little speeches, cut your ties and launch yourself with the arrogance of the omniscient eighteen year-old high school senior than it is to take hat-in-hand, swallow your pride, and take your damaged ego into the minefield of undergraduate life at the dawn of middle age. The good news is that your intelligence doesn't just evaporate with time; it may be dormant, but I promise you, it's still there. You just have to access what's inherent within you, dust it off, and make use of it.

We have the advantage of age and wisdom, acquired by the hardest. We are not the wide-eyed virgins of academe. We have persevered. We will succeed. It has a price, but it will be worth it in the end. You're just going to have to trust me on this one.

I am prouder of him now that he's facing this at 43, than had he walked across a stage in Baltimore in four years at 22 as he was supposed to have done had everything gone according to plan. It's what we make of what we're dealt that defines us- and it was in him all along. I have always said that if he believed half as much in himself as I've always believed in him, there was nothing that he could not do. Sometimes it's good to actually be right; now that he's figured it out, there should be nothing that stops him.

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