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Monday, October 2

Well, I'll Be A Terrapin

Jerry: What will you have to do with the university?
Beanie: Legally speaking there will be a loose affiliation. But, we will give nothing back to the academic community. As well as provide no public service of any kind. This much I promise you.

Old School is by far one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. If you haven’t seen it, you must.

I wish it could be that much fun when I give it a go soon but I somehow doubt that my experience will be anything like the experiences of Mitch, Frank and Beanie.

My father recently said that his one regret was that he didn’t encourage his children towards college more. While it probably would have helped (dad’s words still ring so very loudly in my ears), I don’t think anything he said would have changed the way I went about things back then. Or that way my only sibling, a younger brother, did things either. We both graduated from high school and went on to get our Associate’s degrees, me taking a year off first and him right out of high school. It wasn’t that we weren’t motivated to work hard for the ultimate, American ‘good’ life, we just did the best we thought we could with the resources that we had.

My brother went to school, graduated, got a good paying job which he has been at for many years now, married four years ago and has two beautiful kids. Looks like he did pretty well in achieving his hopes and dreams. And he certainly seemed to get his act together well before I did.

After high school, I spent my first year taking off on my earliest solo adventure to a new city only days after turning 18. It was a hard year where I learned a lot and grew even more fiercely independent than I ever was before. As the first year on my own came to an end, I packed up and headed back home to start on an Associate’s degree. I went to school fulltime and worked almost as many hours as a waitress to keep the bills paid. I always knew school was something I had to do to get those good jobs and to be a better person. This is how I knew I could get it. No one ever got the good stuff without a little sweat and a lot of tears.

In two years, I finished a Medical Assisting program, got an internship in an Internal Medicine practice and landed my first ‘career job’ from there. I still planned on going back to get a Bachelor’s degree, even though I always struggled with what it was that I exactly wanted to be when I grew up. I don’t think it matters what you go for as long as you do it. Poor message if you ask me. But that’s the way life is. It took two years to get myself more financially stable and eventually managing to find the time and the cash to get back on track to the next stage of school. While working fulltime as a medical assistant, I started at York College as a part-time student.

It was as grueling as the first time around and I gave a lot of freedoms to do it. During these years, I moved so many times that it got ridiculous to even fill out change of address cards. I went where the rent was cheap so I could do everything I had to – work to pay the bills, go to classes and keep my grades up and still be able to enjoy my 20s the way you are supposed to. Sometimes this meant I had to move back home for a few months where my parents graciously allowed me to come in and out as I chose. Sometimes this meant I had to work more and do less class and sometimes the other way around. I often had to quit jobs and find new ones so classes fit into this frenzied schedule better. It was a time of sporadic bursts of energy and weeks where I just dragged myself along from one task to the next, not even looking towards results anymore. As long as I kept going, no matter how I did it, I was still doing it. I thought that was all that mattered.

From 1993 to 2000, school and work were all that my life was about. And it made me absolutely hate it. I couldn’t stand the long hours and lack of sleep anymore. I was emotionally and physically drained and wanted so much to be free of all of the damn responsibilities and be a kid again.

I went on a white water trip in the summer of 2000. We made our way from Pennsylvania, to meet up with friends in Virginia and then on to the wilds of West Virginia. After a few days spent with them, I got one of those twitches again that it was time for a change. As we drove home from the kind of trip that makes you wish you never had to leave vacation, we all discussed moving to Virginia and starting a new life. I certainly was ready for it. I was the only one that went for it.

I found a great job with a client I had in Pennsylvania, found a roommate and an apartment and three short weeks after my trip, I was a resident of Virginia, looking forward to a complete lifestyle change. I had given up school for the time being and a job back home. I was desperate for something new and challenging but without the pressure I had been putting on myself.

As I settled in to my new area, I decided that it wasn’t time for school just yet. I didn’t feel like rushing back to that old life of too many working hours and not enough life left in me at the end of every day. So I just… didn’t.

You know how life starts to go by so fast… and you love it too much to want to change a thing? I lived in Virginia from July 2000 to July 2006. It seems like a blur. A fabulous blur where I feel like I really made myself who I am today. I found new friends that I can’t live without. I found a husband who loves to experience things with me. But I never found that school was a calling in all that time. To even contemplate taking away what I had then was unfathomable.

And now.

There was a to-do list for Japan. Sitting in its mighty position number one is to finish that degree I have long dreamed about. I’m finally going to finish what I started.

I’m writing all of this because this lack of a Bachelor's is something I have long been truly embarrassed about. I hate being asked where I went to school as if that is the only standard I should be judged on. I am so proud of the amazing family and friends in my life that have their degree or degrees. I’m so proud of those that don’t who are some of the smartest people I have ever known. Yet, it destroys me that I am never going to be worthwhile to anyone in this world until I have the same piece of paper to frame and hang on the wall that others do. What’s even worse is that no one else probably even thinks these things about me but that years of beating myself up for not being like everyone else, for not doing things in the way everyone else did, has forced me to insist to myself that having a degree will somehow make me valuable to my friends and to the world in general. What kind of foolish standards are those that I have given to myself? Shouldn’t it be enough that I am a good, loving, loyal person? And yet, it will just never be. Not for me. I find myself constantly struggling to find my sense of worth.

I finally have the time to – borrowing a highly overused slogan – just do it. I’m registered. I start classes in November. I’m going to be a fulltime student again but this time without the eight hours of regular work on top of class. No distractions. Just the time to finally do this. For everyone who has asked what school I went to. For my dad to be proud that I got what he wanted no matter how or when I got there. But mostly for myself. So I can finally move on with my life and worry about the one hundred other reasons why I’m not good enough that we all struggle with. It’s about damn time.


Anonymous said...

Oh Karen, how I can relate to that! I never went to college at all - long story for another day - I have a good job (21 years), making more than many with degrees (if that is any gauge of anything) and I have an incredible daughter that I didn't need a degree to get! However, I am 40 years-old and I am amazed how much the college question comes up and that I still absolutely cringe! I hope that one day I will fulfill my dream of becoming an RN, for me and as an example to my precious daughter.


Anonymous said...

Hi, congratulations, I'm behind you 100%, YOU CAN DO IT!

thanks for sharing this...

It is unfortunate how people can be valued on there academic accomplishments or at least as those accomplishments are documented on a piece of paper.

Just remember the people that you really want around you are the ones that will value you on your core inner qualities as god has designed you and not necessarily ones that you have been graded on by a university. I have already given you an A+. The grades you should be most interested in obtaining high marks on are the ones god will give you as you reach the pearly gates...keep up the good job karen!

As far as taking classes to finish your degree, it may go with out saying, but take classes of various fields of study that interest you and where you feel you might learn something that will be of use to you down the road or may help you in any of your possible pursuits, or that just plain interest you...good luck.....don't feel you need to try in fit in anybody elses mold...

Anonymous said...

blog owner approval!!? whats up with that, thats something new...have you been getting spammed!?

Mike S said...

Karen, although you say it's to be on an "equal" footing with others, I think you're going back for the best reason of all: to please YOU!! Having degrees myself and many friends with none at all, I know from experience that it's the person that makes the degree, not the other way around. There's plenty of educated dummies in the world & you'll never be one. Good luck with your dream.

Anonymous said...

hahaha, karen, for you to get on equal footing with others it means you may need to take a step back!!! hahahahaha..hey good luck.

Jen said...

I am glad you're going to school for you. But since the first time I met you I've watched you educate yourself in a variety of ways. You have so much enthusiasm -- are good at this unbelievably long list of different things. Everyone who knows and loves you also knows how special you are. You're smart, strong, loyal (as you said) and incredibly funny. So don't ever feel like you have anything to prove. I understand the desire to do things for yourself though. And I think that's an admirable reason. I wish you the best of luck.... I can't wait until we can bitch and moan together about how much a day wandering around g-town is preferable to writing a 20-page paper!!! :)

JoLynn said...

A degree is not the measure of a person. Character should matter more and you are a passionate, loving, wonderful person with the highest character. I'm proud that you're going back to school for you. You have my full support!