Thirty-Four Year Old Undergrad
On Saturday, December 19th in 2009, I attended a graduation ceremony at UNC Charlotte. I wore a brand new black suit and a purple button up blouse that made me feel like an adult. I’ve always tried to live by the motto of “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have,” and I so desperately wanted to give off the energy that I knew exactly what I was doing and where I was going. I paired my black suit with a pair of high heels that would bring my adult outfit to life. They were six inch zebra striped pumps, with a purple accent flower. I loved those shoes, I still love those shoes. I walked across that stage holding my breath, trying desperately not to let out the tears that were building up inside of me. My entire family had flown in to see me walk across that stage and celebrate my victory. They were all there to celebrate their little girl finally getting through college after nine long years. Even now, eight years later thinking about that moment in my life makes my heart sink to my feet and the feelings of shame and disappointment covers me like a blanket. Today, on August 7th, 2017, I am here to tell you, my family, my friends, my co-workers… that I’m a complete fraud.
Fall of 2009
I started off the semester in love, living on my own, working full time and barely making ends meet. I was struggling, trying to keep my schoolwork, my work-work and my social life in order, and somehow it was all sort of working out. I had some pretty great supporters and cheerleaders and I just knew that when I got that diploma I was going to go places. I went to see all my advisors; English, Philosophy, and graduation advisor before the semester started to make sure I was on track. They all told me I was done, “Take basket weaving,” one said. I had e-mails from all my advisors that I was graduating at the end of the year and I was thrilled. Since I needed some credit hours I took two American Studies courses. One titled Pop Culture and the American Music Scene, and another on the 1930’s. It was a cake walk.
Two weeks before graduation I received a phone call from the Graduation Advisory. Stating that I was missing ONE class in my minor, and to graduate with a Bachelors of English, I needed a minor. I explained to the woman on the phone that I had e-mails from my advisors all stating that I was done. She was absolutely useless and told me I needed to discuss it with my Philosophy advisor. I immediately went to the Philosophy department and asked to speak to my advisor and was told that he had recently passed away. My heart sank even further than it already was that day, I was sure it was going to leave my body. I then spoke to the head of the Philosophy department and was told, “Well we can’t fault so and so with what has happened, because he is no longer here to defend himself. However, after reviewing your courses, there is just no way we can let you graduate with a Philosophy minor without another traditional course. Classes are already full for next semester, but you may be able to convince one of the Professors to let you in. We are really sorry, but that’s all we can do.”
I left that office, walked out of the building, made the long walk towards the parking lot and made it to my 97’ Ford Taurus I called, Verde. As soon as I shut the door behind me I completely fell to pieces. Here I am, barely making ends meet, working around the clock, paying for school in installments, because “I made too much money for any financial aid,” and I had a cap and gown waiting for me at home that meant absolutely nothing to me now. I did the only thing I knew to do, and that was to call my Mother. I told her how upset and annoyed I was that I wasted an entire semester on bullshit classes when I needed one more class in my minor. I told her how I didn’t even want to go through with the ceremony, and that I was devastated that the institution that I had dedicated nine years off and on to was literally screwing me. They couldn’t accept that in e-mails their advisors had steered me in the wrong direction. I was snotting and sobbing through every word, all I wanted to do was go home but I had to go to work and act like an adult. My mother had informed me that I needed to go through with the ceremony, because my entire family was flying in from Florida, Texas, and New Jersey to surprise me. So, I needed to suck it up, and like the majority of my life, pretend I was happy. So, that is what I did. She said that she wouldn’t tell anyone, and to just take the class the following semester.
The start of that Spring semester I tried everything that I could to get into a class without any luck. Then in late January I was promoted into a different department at work and had to do some traveling. So, one semester lead to another semester and I never went back for that ONE class. Then in the Fall of 2012 I was again promoted and was shipped up here to Pennsylvania where I’ve been ever since. I’ve gotten engaged, bought my first house, gotten married and had the most precious baby girl a mother could ever ask for. I have a supportive husband, a great job and my cheerleaders are all still out there. But, I’m still missing one tiny little thing. A diploma.
So, this past May I contacted my school, spoke to advisors (yet again) and figured out what it was going to take to get back into school. They made me reapply. REAPPLY and pay the application fee. I hounded every advisor I could get my virtual hands on to see what I needed to do to get that piece of paper. I got accepted back into the school in June. Now, instead of needing just one class to graduate, I need FIVE. It makes me want to punch a wall every time I think about it, but here I am. I’m a thirty-four year old wife, mother, full-time forklift tire saleswoman, and a freakin’ undergrad.
Today, Monday August 7th, 2017 I’m here to tell you all that I’m a fraud. I’m also here to tell you I’ve been working my hiney off for the last few weeks as I’ve been taking a summer class. Today, I handed in my Final Assignment of my first class back, and I’ve had a 97% average all semester long. I guess my Mommy brain still works. In the Fall of 2018, if everything works out I should finally be able to give my mother the diploma I’ve been working towards since August of 2001. When that day comes, when I have that piece of paper in my hands, I’m going to put on that cap and gown, put on my special graduation shoes and I’m going to celebrate with my family at my favorite place in Charlotte. I don’t need a ceremony, and I for sure don’t need to waste several hours sitting in a stadium. All I’ll need is my family by my side. I’m going to be the oldest graduate that semester, but I’ll be wearing the coolest shoes and holding the sweetest little girls hand as I continue to show her how to walk with a purpose.
Oh girl, I feel you!!!! You had me relive my trauma of almost not graduating college period. I had gotten pregnant in my sophomore year of college. Unfortunately after I gave birth I caught meningitis right after. I missed a whole year because I was sick. I was missing so many classes they told me it was better if I just”took a break” and come back next semester. I knew I wasn’t going to come back ever. It was now or never. So I had to do part-time while recovering and taking care of a new born to remain in college and then the following year go back to full time. It took me 2yrs after to finally graduate. I know it’s nothing compared to your journey, but when you have a will there is a way. I’m proud of you that you stuck to your dream to finish and graduate. I’m now trying to get back to school for my social work degree and it is daunting. Thank you for reminding me that ady any age it is possible. Go get that diploma girlfriend!
Vanessa, thank you so much for your feedback and your story! I can’t even imagine going through meningitis on top of school and taking care of a little one! I honesty thought that I would never get back to school, but somehow I found my way back. The only benefit of being an “adult” student is that I’m taking the classes a lot more seriously and making sure that I make the time and put in the effort to get the grades that I want. Thank you so much again for your words and support.