I left my home in New York State in 1976 to pursue my lifelong dream of working in the animal industry. I was fortunate enough to be accepted into a junior college in California that would award me an Associate’s Degree in Exotic Animal Training and Management. It was the most wonderful experience for me, but when I walked on to the graduation stage I only a received a Certificate of Completion for the animal program. I never finished all of the credits to receive the degree.
Then, life got in the way as it always does. I got pregnant then married, had another child; I divorced and found love and marriage again. All the while I plodded through day to day life, working this job and that, but never feeling like I was making a contribution to my future or to my family, nor to the world as a whole. I had always felt disappointed in myself for never having completed my degree and believed that without one I would be stuck in low-paying service jobs. I decided to go back to school.
In 1993, I applied to the local community college. I was 35-years-old but didn’t think twice about my age or my abilities. Sure, I had to take all the prerequisites in math and English but I never balked at starting from the beginning. My first college experience was a less serious approach. I was a young kid with little thought given to the importance of academics. This time I was keenly aware of the potential opportunities a college degree would afford me. That’s not to say that the entire experience wasn’t difficult, full of challenges I didn’t think I could meet, and put a great strain on my family.
As I look back on the years it took me to reach my goal of a college degree, I can only say that not only was it worth every sweat and tear, but I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
I am now a professor, not by career but by economic choice – it’s paying the bills; well, sorta. There’s not a lot of money paid to part-time faculty, but when you consider the free time the job affords, it fits perfect with my approach to a job. I would rather be driving around the country in a fully-outfitted RV, writing my book and interviewing those I encounter along the way, documenting their life stories.
For now, at least, I’m standing before a room full of blank and sometimes bored faces trying to educate. My ability to reach my students, to inform them about the subject matter, as well as about the importance of the choice they've made to continue their education is one I take very seriously. You know who are the most dedicated? It’s the non-traditional student – the older ones who went back to school. They are the most motivated, whose lives are full and busy but who are trying the hardest to succeed. It’s the oddest feeling to be the one on the other side of the podium; I can see my own strained, yet, eager face among this group.
Although I have reached the end of my academic pursuits, there’s no way I am going to continue on for a PhD, I continue to learn every single day as a teacher. It isn’t easy presenting yourself as a “know-it-all” but as a teacher you have to give that impression, so I work really, really hard to be as knowing as I can on my subject. I continue to learn some new fact and increase my knowledge on the topic I teach. But the real knowledge I am gaining is that no matter how old you are, no matter how challenging life is, and no matter how little time you have, going back to college is a smart, fulfilling, and enriching experience. And, you might just get a good job out of it in the end.