catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 9 :: 2011.05.06 — 2011.05.19


College the second time around

The ups, the downs, the all-arounds

The Ups

Many called me crazy when word got out and it mattered very little. After a decade out in the world with only a high school diploma, it was time for this 28-year-old (at the time) to fulfill a personal promise to get a degree. I had spent a semester at a tiny women’s college in upstate New York ten years previously and adored it, but couldn’t afford to return. Eventually, the disappointment faded, replaced by the desire to finish college. I started slowly, enrolled at the local community college, focusing on core classes easily transferrable to a four-year school. After much research and prayer, my top pick was the University of Maryland Baltimore County or UMBC, only a short distance from where I lived with my mother. I submitted an application and waited. I came home from community college one day to find both Mom and the dog waiting, with a big, fat envelope on the coffee table. I opened it, read, grinned, shouted and dumped everything on the table. My dog joined me in a dance of joy, while Mom shed tears. I was headed to UMBC, baby!

I was going to live on-campus again. It would’ve been cheaper to commute, but at the end of the day, being able to return to my hall room had more appeal than trekking to the shuttle stop, missing out on — whatever. In the search for campus housing, I was told that as a non-traditional student (read: older), I had my pick of residences. I had my eye on the newest hall, Potomac. Scheduled to open just before the start of fall classes, amenities included computer lab, fitness room, an elevator, community rooms with full kitchens and so on. As an avid cook, I was in at the “full kitchen.” I envisioned coming back to my room after classes, home-cooked meals waiting in the fridge to be nuked. I was encouraged by the admissions counselor to have alternate choices “just in case.” Potomac was my choice and the school’s confirmation letter showed we were on the same page. Smart people. With housing selected, my new roommate adjusting to a much-older co-roommate and the rest of college prep done, I waited for the start of school.


More Ups, With A Large Down on the Side

My first year on campus was far from dull. I lived on Potomac Third North, the “Quiet Lifestyle” floor, which had established quiet hours of 9:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. on weekdays and 10:00 p.m. to 10:00 a.m. on the weekends. We were a diverse group of different races and cultures ranging in age from sixteen to thirty-two and got along famously. Admittedly, graying Gary, the oldest, intimidated the heck out of us as three of us eavesdropped on the hammering sounds that came from his single dorm room. With ears pressed to his door, we were so absorbed in nosiness, we never noticed the ceasing of construction sounds — until we fell in a heap inside. “Well!” he drawled in a Texas accent. “Looks like I got guests!” We became fast friends over midnight teas in our common room.

I joined a couple of campus organizations that fall: my dorm’s Hall Council and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IV). Our most memorable Council event was our Study with Dunkin’ Donuts, when we partnered with a local store to provide an evening buffet of fresh, hot donuts for midterms — except the store manager “forgot” and attempted to blow off a “bunch of college kids.” He didn’t expect one of those “kids” to be a 28-year-old with a copy of the contract, ready to call corporate headquarters. Those donuts, with a side of victory, seemed extra tasty that night. My long-term involvement with IV began that fall, where long-standing friendships began forming and my faith continued to grow.

That faith was tested when I broke my ankle during a skating trip. I had no idea how to get around campus for classes, much less around my floor. Amy, the hall director, had keys made so I could use the elevator. Hall mates and IVer’s stepped in and set up shifts to take turns keeping me company, delivering meals and class work, taking me to the doctor — in short, caring for me. It wasn’t the easiest of experiences, but I was humbled and felt blessed by these new friends.


More Downs

The following year at UMBC presented more challenges, not all academic. Coursework in my English major and theatre concentration increased. I alternately spent time in the arts building and campus theatre serving as technical support for various theatre and dance productions. In my element, I enjoyed every last, tiring bit of it. I also divided time between campus and Mom’s place as my grandmother’s health failed, giving my mother respite from care-giving duties. I felt the strain, reflected in my grades. Weekly IV Bible studies and large group meetings provided much-needed support during that time. When Grandma away passed from Alzheimer’s, once again friends were there to comfort me and my mother.


And All-Arounds

My fourth year (I was on the five-year plan) found me as a resident assistant in Patapsco Hall. The previous year, I decided to apply to defray costs and take a chance at getting on the coveted double singles floor, where residents had a double room to themselves. One lucky resident would get the even more coveted triple single, a triple room to him or herself. The more credits a student had, the better her chances to get on the floor. I went through the R.A. interview process and waited. Across campus, upperclassmen, friends included, prayed and counted credits. I carried my selection letter from Mac, Patapsco’s hall director, to waiting friends in the dining hall. Again, I was in, R.A. of Patapsco Third North.

I was the only R.A. with her own staff. First, three of my male friends showed up at the first hall meeting of the year, dressed from head to toe in black, complete with shades. They announced they were my bodyguards! Yeah, I couldn’t understand why I needed them myself, but went with it. Next, while hanging out in my room one day, Lisa announced I needed a social manager and volunteered herself for the job. I went with that, too. Our floor had a no-nonsense reputation that younger students respected and older students gravitated toward. The year was filled with fun and laughter and ended with a catered party, lovingly coordinated by Lisa.

My last year on campus was the hardest. In addition to finishing up coursework for my degree, I dealt with the declining health of my aunt, Mom’s only sister. My single room in Potomac became a retreat, a place to pray and journal. Near the beginning of my last semester on campus, days before her birthday, my aunt passed away from AIDS. And like before, friends came together for Mom and me. I’d like to say I remember the rest of the year, but I don’t. Even graduation is a blur, except for this: I walked across the stage that May afternoon, weary head held high, ready for — whatever.

I thought I went back to college to fulfill a dream. There was a maturing process I needed to go through to prepare for the rest of my life, and I believe that process wouldn’t have happened had I stayed at my previous college. In this case, the alternate route to education was a road well traveled.

*NOTE: Names were changed to protect the guilty.

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