Most people graduate from college in their early twenties. This was my original trajectory too. But circumstances and life choices sent me in other directions, and that elusive degree faded into the background while family and children took center stage.
I had always wanted to return to school. As my kids grew, I found many practical excuses to put it off. Finally, as my marriage ended and my life took new and unexpected turns, I found the fortitude to go back.
I started my new college career at Nassau Community College (NCC) in 2012. Hurricane Sandy disrupted my first semester, and despite its ensuing turmoil, I persevered that fall semester. Since my basic required classes needed fulfilling, I found myself in two math classes and two science labs. Ugh!
As I continued, I realized English was my real love, and I took as many writing and literature classes as I could. In the spring of 2015, I graduated Summa cum Laude from NCC. My Associate’s Degree, coupled with good grades and my being awarded the State University of New York's Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence offered me several continuing ed options. I was accepted into Queens College’s prestigious Transfer Honors Program and gratefully accepted.
In the fall of 2015 I started classes at QC, working toward my English major. While I took all requisite English classes, I also found room for other forays. Painting. Drama. Anthropology. Urban Studies. Creative Writing. Spanish. This colorful array of subjects added depth and breadth to my educational experience, and while I was mainly focused on my declared major, I discovered many, many pertinent tributaries within these other classes.
I did well at QC. My lowest grade was a B+ in Spanish -- a class in which I worked hard, whose professor was a motivated young woman named Ruth Rodriguez. Profesora Rodriguez was well into her first pregnancy when she taught my class, and, understanding my aging brain’s weakness for short-term memory, offered a number of extra credit options to bring up my grade. A week and a half before our final exam, Profesora Rodriguez went into labor and gave birth to a fine baby boy named Octavio. Several days later, we were shocked and saddened to hear that Profesora Rodriguez passed away, after suffering a post-partum stroke. A number of us went to her funeral services and did our best to comfort her husband, another QC professor. Sitting for her final, reading her questions, hearing her voice over and over -- surreal and heartbreaking.
My final semester was stressful. I was in the second half of my Honors English seminar. Theses were due and the final exam loomed as a daunting shadow over everything. I concluded with an A+ on my thesis and High Honors on my final -- better than I had expected. Our Honors Conference was great -- each of us presented excerpts from our theses and sat in panels to answer all manner of intellectual questions. Two weeks before graduation, I was informed by the Advising Department that, because I had 56 credits at QC instead of 60, I was not eligible for any honors designations. Together with my advisors and the college’s Vice president, we fought the ruling and, on the very morning of the honors Baccalaureate ceremony, I received my formal invitation to participate. Such drama, I could do without!
So, I graduated Summa cum Laude, a designation that stands as testimony to years of hard work, and many late night papers.
In years past, whenever I would visit my kids at their respective college campuses, I always envied the atmosphere there. I longed to walk the quad, study in the library, get coffee from the dining hall Starbucks. Now I have done these things. And while that magic dust may have eluded me when papers were due and exams loomed, I must say that I loved every minute of my college career.
My white head was singular at graduation. Still, I felt an integral part of my cohort. My school friends -- brilliant all -- worked and walked with me throughout this journey, never thinking less or more of me than any other classmate. How wonderful. That black cap and gown, those honors stoles and ropes were worn with a grateful pride I had not yet felt in my lifetime. I am a college graduate. And I have to pinch myself each time I think of it.