4 SCHOOLS 4 A 4-YEAR DEGREE

“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” -Will Durant

 

My friend wrote me an e-mail the other day as she and her family “ventured into the world of college visits.”  I have a huge amount of respect for this mom, the way she knows when to guide her children and when to step back and I’ve grown from our friendship!  But the e-mail also brought up some resentment for me.  After all, it took me four schools and changing majors 7 times to get an undergraduate degree!  The resentment I felt was towards my parents for their absolute not caring where I went or what I did and towards myself for being so stupid.  Perspective changes and I’m using this post, right now, this very second to FORGIVE MYSELF.  Which, it turns out, is actually harder than it sounds.

                First you have to accept the surrounding circumstances.  The year leading up to my official high school graduation was rather insane.  That summer my two older sisters both got married and my mother had another child.  Yes, you read that correctly.

                I’d skipped most of my senior year of high school to attend the community college and start earning credits.  At this point I thought I wanted to be a surgeon.  This, I felt, was supported by my winning Aberdeen’s science fair in 11th grade and my job at the Maryland Science Center.  Only, my project, in hindsight, won for artistic reasons and my job was for the EDUCATION department of the MSC.          

                I *chose* to attend UMBC, but I really just bumbled into it, thinking I was smart because they offered me full tuition.  I do remember looking at the brochure for a performing arts school in New York, but worrying I’d never get in.  I also remember looking at a catalogue for St. John’s in Annapolis.  I didn’t apply to either one and, sigh, I’M LETTING THAT GO.  Right now.

                Then I was sad – maybe because it finally struck me that all my liberal arts classes were smooshed into one building while the rest of the campus was for the actual target students or I’d just changed to double-majoring in Psych and Pre-Med (self-awareness coming slowly) or maybe because my boyfriend had left for California pursuing his own dream.  Whatever. 

                I took a year off and went to Prague, Czech Republic to teach English.

                From there I went to Los Angeles.  Where I wasn’t a CA resident because I didn’t have the state driver’s license.  So I got one.  But I still wasn’t a CA resident so I spent most of my saved money paying out-of-state tuition at a community college that would be on my transcripts and cause problems every time I needed documentation of previous credits.  This one is really hard.  I forgive you self.  I understand you wanted to feel like you were being productive and taking steps to finish your degree.  I forgive you.

                Then I moved back to Maryland to attend Frostburg.  They were very kind, believed in me, gave me tuition money.  I dropped the criminal science major from California (did I really think I’d work with the LAPD as a profiler?)  and here at FSU I switched to English.  Because who would ever have thought someone who reads constantly should pursue a literature degree?

                But, too rural.  So I went back to UMBC where I had more earned credits because other schools don’t accept all transfer classes.  Except.  After I returned, the powers that be decided that not only was I not a Maryland resident – because I had that stupid California license — but I’d also given up my scholarship and was not available for financial aid for several reasons including that the salary I’d made in Prague didn’t compute because it was too low for someone to live on.  Aid officers unimpressed when I pointed out that I’d made a third-world wage while living in a third-world country.   

                So circuitous and full of blunders.  Not the way I would have liked, but it worked.  I graduated with honors and was accepted into graduate school…after they received transcripts from ALL the places I’d attended.  BTW the California school charged for transcripts and always took the longest to send. 

                I wrote a book later, my first attempt, about that year in Prague, but it kept getting rejected and I didn’t understand why.  Thought it was a funny premise – a 20-year-old teaching in a post-communist country.  One editor finally clued me in.  The disgust and anger I felt with the main character came through.  I said that was ridiculous, the character was based on myself.  It was dark humor.  She answered that she didn’t know about that, but readers didn’t want to identify with this main character.
                I’m not really good with saying “I’m sorry” and “you’re forgiven.”  I think I forgot, somehow, about how important that life lesson really is.  I’m ready to re-learn.  Maybe if this forgiveness-stuff works I can come back to that novel and give it another try because I do think the premise is good and can be funny.  Maybe the main character just needs a little guidance, a little help, a little intervention to deal with her pain.  Heck, maybe I’ll even give her a friend.