Thirty years ago, I walked across Bradley University’s campus with intention and nervous haste. Having graduated from Illinois Central College (ICC) three months earlier, I was going to Bradley Hall for my first university class. At age 39, I was a non-traditional student, overwhelmed, anxious, self-conscious and determined. My determination paled in comparison to my apprehension, but I believed I could do this. Fortunately I wasn’t suffering from homesickness like some students may have been.
My declared major was philosophy. A bold choice some might say, given my plans to have a more marketable resume. I had resigned from my job as an airline reservationist some 14 years earlier when my first child was born. I thrived on being a Mom and welcomed three babies in quick succession. My aspirations were to be a joyous mix of Susie Homemaker and Mother Earth. Given there were no progress reports or evaluations, it’s a bit uncertain how well I achieved my goal. School had always dangled on fringes of my comfort zone, although I loved classes as an adult at ICC. After successfully earning an associate degree, I decided to invest two more years into this formal pursuit of knowledge. My 9 a.m. class was grueling and the professor seemed intent on making all aspects difficult. High school geometry class stomachaches returned. I asked mid-term about my grade, and he told me Bradley had a late drop date. With much conviction, I told him I wasn’t planning to drop his class or any others.
It took awhile, but I eventually felt comfortable with the curriculum, professors and students. Lack of confidence was offset by a strong will to succeed. I realized early that excuses weren’t necessary for explaining unpreparedness. For the most part, instructors didn’t care about whys, although I did ask for an extension on a philosophy paper when my much-loved dog of 15 years died. I was given extra time.
Initially I thought my life experiences and successes would lessen the importance of grades for me. I was wrong. Those grades symbolized achievement to me, and I valued them. Class discussions were thought provoking and sometimes I shared them with my son and daughters for their input. My comments in one class concerning the ’60s upheaval, guys with long hair and the draft gave classmates perspectives from someone other than an authority figure in their lives. Their responses gave me much to consider. It was learning at its best.
Graduation Day was an incredible event for me. I was humbly proud. I had learned new ways to think, evaluate, step back to observe and live with conviction. Grateful for so many opportunities, I was especially thankful for my family’s support and encouragement and my husband graciously doing many extra tasks.
Thirty years later, I’m back on Bradley’s campus, this time taking OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) classes. Walking across campus causes no apprehension, but does bring back many memories. I’ve handpicked classes of my choice, none of which include tests or grades. It’s purely for the love of learning, and as I learn later, for “socialization opportunities” with peers.
I’m still a note-taker, enjoy discussions, value varied opinions and exposure to new ideas. And appreciate being in a classroom with enthusiastic teachers and other interested learners.