What I Learned From Earning My College Degree
This spring, I walked across the commencement stage at Angelo State to receive my diploma. While there were many family and friends cheering me on as I made what appeared to be a very quick walk across that stage, I remember it in slow motion.
For me, it was a surreal moment and I relished in it.
I remember distinctly handing over my name card, bowing slightly as I was adorned with an honor cord, listening as my name was called out, shaking hands and receiving congratulations from my college department head, the dean, the chancellor, the regent, the keynote speaker, and then pausing slightly to have my photo taken with the president of the university.
Walking across that stage made up for all the sacrifices my family and I made so that I could go back to school part time while holding down a full-time job. It made up for lost vacation time to attend summer classes and it made up for lost family dinners and weekend getaways so that I could finish homework.
The last five years in higher education have definitely changed this non-traditional, middle-aged woman, and I want to tell you how.
Drawing Strength From My Accomplishment
First of all, I am empowered now by having a college degree. That one thing is a game-changer for me.
Having been a “dislocated worker,” I know firsthand what it feels like to lose your job and career and have to start all over again.
It’s a very humbling moment to have to go to the back of the line and realize that you cannot compete, despite years and years of experience, and instead you have to settle for what you can get.
And honestly, I’ve never been one to settle, so it was a rough adjustment for me.
Learning Things I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know
Secondly, I am full of knowledge — much of which I never knew I was missing.
When you have life experience, you can become self-absorbed and think you know everything. You believe life has taught you lessons that make you wiser. But having just spent 120 semester hours immersed in learning, I can tell you there is so much I didn’t know.
While I have lived life and have had many experiences that have shaped my character, higher education has given me the opportunity to learn foundational aspects of those life lessons. It’s like being taken behind the scenes of life and having explanations given to you. Suddenly everything begins to make sense, and you develop a hunger that makes you want to learn even more.
Analyzing the World Around Me
There’s quite a bit of focus in college on teaching students to think critically. Most programs are expected to teach critical thinking skills. When you look at that term, you probably don’t get it and you don’t understand what it really means. But after five years, 1,825 days and 120 semester hours, I can tell you that I get it.
I now know how to use the lessons learned to help me critically analyze not just work-related situations, but more importantly, the real-life lessons that we encounter on a daily basis.
A Wider Cultural Experience
And finally, I have become culturally aware. I had the opportunity to study abroad one summer. I traveled to Europe and spent a month learning about European cultures.
At Angelo State, we also have a diverse student body, and we are given an opportunity to be in class with each other and to share activities on campus. It makes you realize that our way of doing things, or rather my way, is not the only way.
We learn to appreciate and respect other cultures as well as each other and to approach new friendships and social situations with an open mind.
Step Up To The Challenge
I have a lot of hope now. Not just for myself, but for everyone who is receiving a college education and especially for non-traditionals like me who develop the courage to go back to school.
I encourage anyone who desires to get the degree that escaped them in their younger days to work toward it. After all, time passes anyway, so why not start learning today? I promise, you won’t regret it.