Once upon a time, there was a girl who . . . well, never mind, it is Me.
My daughter was asking me the other day if I was excited when I graduated (We live in a college town and graduation was this past weekend.) I said "Well, from high school, when I got my bachelors degree, or when I got my masters degree?"
Because I can't give one answer that would fit each graduation.
Was I excited for my high school graduation? Well, I guess. Mostly, it was more like Finally! I had taken extra classes for many years, and I had received good grades over the years, and so by the time I got I got to my senior year, I was only taking two classes, and I needed neither of them to graduate (I was taking AP English, and Aerobic Dance - hey, it was the 80s, OK?) I had strongly considered going on to college after my junior year. My boyfriend was a year ahead of me, so I could go join him at the same time. I didn't need to take any classes. It made sense to me. But everyone else was against it. My parents didn't think I was ready (I was one of the youngest in my class as it was. And I'm sure the boyfriend thing had something to do with their apprehension.) Other adults said "Oh, you can't miss your senior year! The prom, the parties, all the last things of high school." My friends wanted me to stay. So I stayed.
I was miserable. All my friends had boyfriends and spent all of their time with them. My boyfriend wasn't there, so I didn't go to parties or prom. My AP English teacher left for a sabbatical 2 months into school and we were left with a substitute who did nothing but sit at the front of the room and read to himself. He expected us to read too, but gave us no instruction on how to prepare for the AP test, etc. My aunt was pregnant with her sixth child and needed help, so I went and helped her for two whole months from December to February. It wasn't like I was going to be missing much in my AP class, or Aerobics, for that matter.
So by the time that May came around, I couldn't wait to just be done. I remember the ceremony being very hot. It was inside at local sports auditorium. There was 650 people in my graduating class. So hot and long.
So I went off to college. I had decided to major in Microbiology. I expected that I would graduate in 4 years, and then probably go on for a masters in Microbiology. And then Life just started happening. My boyfriend had died 3 weeks into my freshman year and that had put my life into a tailspin. I suddenly just didn't have the motivation for school like I always had. And I just didn't really see myself as a microbiologist anymore. I changed my major to English Education. But then I changed schools. And then I came back to my original school. And changed my major to Spanish. Then Communications. And then I just dropped out of school altogether. I worked as a Police Records Clerk and then a 911 dispatcher. And then finally, I decided to go back to school. I had learned about Technical Writing from a friend that I knew while I was working at the Police Department and thought that I would enjoy doing that type of work. So I decided to major in English with a focus on Technical Writing. So I changed schools one last time. After being back in school for two years, I graduated. I was thrilled. I had done it. I had started to believe, back when I was at the police department, that I would never get a college degree. But here I was, 9 years after graduating from high school and lots of experiences under the bridge, graduating from college. (My parents were pretty darned thrilled too. LOL)
So then I went and worked as a technical writer for a year up in Chicago. I enjoyed it, but I was just working as a contract worker and my job would be up in August. I tried applying other places, but my heart just wasn't in it. I decided to apply to graduate schools and get a graduate degree in Technical Communications. I applied to three schools and got into all three. But the only school where I would receive an assistantship and other financial aid was at my alma mater. It was my third choice - I had wanted to experience some place different, and I thought the other two schools had stronger programs. But I didn't have much cash, and so I went with the school that was giving me the most money.
I was probably two weeks in when I knew that I had made the wrong decision. The program just wasn't what I wanted. I was miserable. And I was stressed out from all the work that I was doing in a program that I didn't like, on top of teaching two sections of Freshman English. And then I met Mr. Simple. Which helped me not be so miserable, but it didn't help me enjoy the program any more. So after a year, I dropped out. Mr. Simple, on the other hand, and all of the friends that I met in the English department, all graduated a year later.
A few months after I dropped out, I was offered a position back at the company that I had worked for before graduate school, but this time, it was a permanent position. I said yes and off we went. (Mr. Simple and I had gotten married over the summer.) I worked there for a couple years and then I worked at another company as a technical writer for another couple years. Then my alma mater called me back again, but this time, it was for a job. They wanted me to come and work as a computer software trainer. So we came back (by this time, I was pregnant with Flower.) I worked there for 5 years.
When I had been there for about 2 years, it started to really bother me that I had never finished my masters degree. So I started taking classes. My focus changed a couple times - at first I was going to get a 2nd bachelors in computer science. Then I was going to get an elementary education certificate. But then, I finally decided that what I really wanted to do was get a masters degree. So I started taking classes for a masters degree in Technology with an emphasis on Training and Development and Project Management. It was great. The school paid for most of my tuition. Mr. Simple would watch the girls (I'd had Jelly Bean by this time) at night so I could take a couple classes. This went on for about a year. And then I got laid off from my job due to state budget cuts.
I still had a couple years of taking classes part-time to finish my degree. What should I do? I really wanted to finish. So we decided to have me finish. We would take out student loans. I would teach preschool to bring in a little money. After another year of going to school, I got pregnant with Super. What should I do? Should I stop? We decided to it was best for me to finish. Super was born at the end of September. I took two weeks off that semester, and then went back to classes. And when Super was 9 months old, Jelly Bean 4, and Flower 6, I graduated.
I was thrilled. I had done it. Despite all the time, job/job loss, births, I had done it. I certainly couldn't have done it without Mr. Simple. He did child care for three years so I could do it. But it was a LOT of money. Money that we mostly didn't have. Money that we had to get through student loans. Money that we used sometimes to help us get through because I was no longer working full-time. But I had done it. I had always wanted to finish a masters degree and now, finally, 21 years after I graduated from high school, I did it. As I walked across the stage, I heard Jelly Bean scream "Yea, Mommy!" and it made me cry.
And so when I see people in graduation caps and gowns, it makes me think. Think of that high school day when I couldn't wait to leave, and that first degree when it was just me and my parents that were proud of me, and that 2nd degree when I had my parents, and all the other Simples there, cheering me on . . . .