Friday, December 16, 2022

Three Year Journey

The Three Year Journey began in 2020. As the pandemic is slowly but surely making its way into history, a question people ask and ask often is how others got through it. My story begins in January 2020, before the pandemic hit. My last child was a senior in high school. She had been accepted into many different colleges and universities, and many were not close to home. I was aware of the significant changes coming at me in several months. For the last ten years or so, my daughter and I spent most of our time together as she was a competitive dancer. She had dance practice every day and some weekends. During the competitive season, we had weekend-long events and traveled around the state and even the country for events. I learned how to do ballet dancer hair. I learned to sew and alter and fit. I gemmed, jeweled, and bedazzled. I had contacts at dance apparel companies around the world. I had a full-time job outside my full-time job. It was busy and crazy, but I enjoyed it too.  

As my tiny dancer entered her last year at home, I could see my busy lifestyle and close relationship with my girl coming to an end. My house would be child-free, and I would be at loose ends. My husband suggested that I look into going back to school. I'd obtained an associate degree in paralegal studies right out of high school, but I'd always had the intention to return. Then life happened, which included children. There was simply no time to go back to school. In 2020, with the future I was facing before me, it sounded like a great idea.  

I searched online for accredited and reputable online, fully electronic programs. I wanted a program that I could do in my own time, in my own home, whenever I had time, and wherever I could. I found a few, but the one I ended up with was through Northern Arizona University. They had a program of business that fit my needs and wants perfectly. It was competency-based and entirely online. In a moment of determination, I applied to the college and then sat back and waited. I had not been in school for 25 years and was not confident I would get in. After all, I'm not 18, and I don't have SATs or ACTS behind me. I did, however, get in. Surprise! After some frustration trying to obtain my transcript from my associate's degree, I was set up to begin university.  

I was excited. I could do this. I'm a writer, a published writer, after all. I could do this! I'm sorry to say I almost could NOT do this. The program had classes that you must take, just like any college. Within those classes are specific lessons that must be learned. In each lesson, you must complete and pass with a grade no lower than 86 an assignment, an exam, and an essay. I did well on the assignments and the exams. I didn't have any issues there. The essays, however, were a significant bump in the road. When I was in high school, we didn't have essays. We had extended response. We had complete sentence structures. We had reports. I assumed incorrectly that a report was the same as an essay. Wow. I was so wrong. No worries, I'm a writer. I could figure this out. I'm not going to lie. It was not easy. After some serious frustration, a lot of tears, and driving my husband up the wall, I finally figured it out. That first semester almost did me in. I was passing exams with flying colors. I was doing assignments with ease and even some enjoyment. I was reading and learning, which was great! The essays, well, they were the reason I came really, incredibly close to quitting. So close that I contacted my counselor to ask if my credits were transferrable. It was a rough period. I had a professor send me a harsh message saying that as the program was based on a lot of essays, I needed to really think hard about whether or not I should be in it. That hurt. It about broke my spirit.  

So, after more tears and angry frustration, I decided I had to ask for help. My husband, thankfully, explained how an essay works. What the ingredients for an essay are. How to format. How to get evidence and cite things properly. I needed a serious lesson on how to write an essay. Once I felt better about the issue, I drafted and passed a rewrite of my failed essays. I shed more tears over that, more in relief than anything else at that point. I don't know how many essays I wrote throughout my college career, but I feel it was close to 120. I can now say I am pretty darn awesome at essay writing.  

I began my program in February 2020, and as we know, Covid hit in March 2020. The world shut down for many people. Mine did not. I continued to work full-time, in the office, for the entirety of the pandemic. I put in my hours at work, and then I would spend another 30+ hours a week on schoolwork. On average, I completed 24 credit hours each semester and was able to complete a four-year degree in two years and seven months. If I had understood the essays from the get-go, it would have been even faster, as that first semester was slow.  

The college experience helped me to survive the tiny dancer going off to college at Purdue. I was so busy with schoolwork I didn't miss the crazy schedule of dance. It helped get me through the horrible days of sadness with my children all grown and flown. It kept my mind busy instead of lonely. I am so grateful to have started that program, and not going to lie, I am so glad (relieved) to be done. I now have an associate degree in paralegal studies, and as of December 16, 2022, I have a Bachelor of Science in Business with an emphasis on Human Resources with a minor in Computer Information Technology. That's how I survived the pandemic and how I survived my drop into an empty nest.  

Now, what will 2023 bring? We will wait and see.