Hitting the Books, and Other Pleasures
When I decided to go back to school for journalism part-time some six years ago, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I'd always intended to go back and obtain my bachelor's (I had an associate arts degree stashed away from the early 90s, and thankfully, most of those credits transferred.) I embarked boldly on this new path at a mid-point in my life, determined to carve out more options for myself. I wasn't even quite sure what my ultimate career goal might be. As I was assured by many of my professors along the way, the field of journalism wasn't dead – just changing. Most venues were going online, print publications were becoming thinner, and digital storytelling was becoming a thing. The one thing I always maintained along the way, especially when people would inquire what exactly I was going to do with that degree, was that I was going to stay open to possibilities that would present themselves in my path. I didn't want to guess what those could be too far in advance, and even when the looming date of completion drew ever near, I still didn't think it wise to put all my eggs in one basket.
Looking back, I am so grateful that I enrolled in the program when I did. There was so much new technology to learn, and I was happy to have access to acquire that cutting edge knowledge, often alongside my predominantly youthful and savvy peers. I rediscovered how much I enjoyed being a student. I loved the challenge of studying hard, rewriting papers, reading new texts, and seeing the good hard-earned grade pay off. It was a part of me that I had lost along the way in my teens. Sadly, because of the horrific bullying I endured in junior high, I lost my way from my true path. I believe to this day, it's precisely what scarred me so badly that I retreated into a shell of my former self – never completely living up to my full potential and talent – certainly not academically. That took a decided nosedive during those dark times, from which I never fully recovered – until now.
So in reclaiming this innate part of myself, I was also healing that old wound. Righting old wrongs, so to speak. It took a fair amount of courage to do this in my 40s, taking some chances with financing and student loans, and planting myself right alongside students young enough to be my kids, had I chose to have them. Picking up a math book for the first time since high school, and managing to pass a statistics class was something akin to Rocky going all twelve rounds with Apollo Creed for the first time to me. I was amazed and immensely satisfied to prove I could actually do it.
I also made a point to involve myself in student extracurricular activities. Just because I wasn't residing on campus didn't mean I couldn't be involved. The school paper, magazine, blog, and radio station were all playgrounds of creative expression for me, and I gleefully tapped into every one – as if I was 21 again – discovering each for the first time. I was proud to join the Lamda Pi Eta Honors Society in recognition of my good grades, and I made a point to explore the other benefits of my campus: theatrical productions at the Helfaer, new art exhibits at the Haggerty, meditating in the atmospheric Joan of Arc Chapel before final exams each semester, contentedly holing up in the vast yet homey Raynor Library, attending foreign poetry or student film festivals, and going to talks and conferences. Two definite highlights: James Foley speaking the first time after his return from captivity in Libya, and the "Buffy At 20: Celebrating 20 Years of Buffy The Vampire Slayer" conference.
There were so many positive memories and experiences – I didn't really want to leave. Now it turns out that I don't have to. I will be embarking on the exciting adventure of life as a digital storytelling grad school student, and a research assistant to professors who I already respect and admire in the program. This particular opportunity presented itself at just the right time, and it felt so right to take it.
In a way, it's a continuation of riding out that high I had on graduation day. So many emotions whirling around my head: nervousness, anticipation, exhilaration, and sheer joy of almost a spiritual sense. When I bounded across the stage in my cap and gown and did a victory Rocky move before laughing and collecting my diploma from our dean, it felt like a pure circle of completion. I never had been brave enough to do the Rocky stance at my high school graduation ceremony, but had the urge. This was a true example of making something right. It was one of the happiest days of my life.