At the beginning of this year, I finally found the motivation to return to college in pursuit of my Bachelor’s degree (I earned my Associate’s back in 2010). When I enrolled at WSU, I imagined the proud day when I would finally graduate and declare triumphantly that I had beaten the odds and finished college.
Up til now, all of my online courses have allowed for open-book exams that I could take at home. But this semester, I’m enrolled in a business law class which required me to actually take a closed-book, proctored exam (basically, I had to take the test in front of a certified supervisor to ensure that I didn’t cheat). This was a first for me: I’ve never taken a proctored exam before and I haven’t taken a test that wasn’t open-book (and open-Google!) in about ten years. I studied for hours but still felt unprepared, and as I left work to take the test last night, I was incredibly nervous.
I had scheduled my proctored exam at Everett Community College, the approved location that was closest to my office. As I drove onto the campus, I saw the stereotypical college scenes: students walking along, carrying books and laughing together, perfectly manicured lawns, and a plethora of parking spaces that were reserved and threatened fines and tow-aways if non-special people like me dared park there (that part of college campuses, I do not miss). I was early and had loads of time to drive around until I finally located visitor parking. I paid for my one-day parking pass and gathered up my notebook and purse to go in and take my test.
The exam itself was easy enough. I chose a computer that faced a window, and when I needed a moment to collect my thoughts, I looked out at the campus. The tall brick buildings, the sidewalks lined with leafy trees…this reminded me a lot of my community college days.
I only attended community college full-time for one semester, right out of high school. Although I had hated high school for the most part, I loved college. I loved getting to campus early and meeting friends for coffee in the student center. I loved the professors who weren’t just talking to drones of students who had no choice but to be there, but were teaching adults who were choosing to attend the classes. I loved the instruction I got, especially from my English professors, who encouraged me wholeheartedly to write. While I admit that I skipped my fair share of classes, I did incredibly well that first semester, and ended up with a high GPA and a place of honor on the Dean’s list.
Then, over the winter break, my life changed drastically. I found myself moving out of my parents’ house, changing jobs, and getting married, none of which was conducive to continuing life as a full-time college student. I couldn’t really afford classes and I no longer had a work schedule that was flexible enough to allow me to go.
I did try to go back, a year later. I took a night class at the school during spring semester, but then over the summer, my world changed drastically again when I filed for divorce. I dropped out of college yet again, and that time I stayed dropped out until 2008, when my coworkers clued me into the benefits of company-provided tuition assistance as they started attending University of Phoenix. I followed suit and completed my final classes for my Associate’s degree over a year and a half. I tried to stick with the program and continue for my Bachelor’s degree, but I disliked the format of UoP’s Bachelor program (it’s not a bad program really, but there are a lot of group assignments, which I didn’t enjoy and found difficult to do with much success in an online environment). After a couple classes, I called it quits.
I knew I needed to find another program, but I enjoyed working full-time without the hassles of trying to complete college coursework at the same time. I was getting good opportunities to try new things that I liked at work, so I lost some of the drive to finish school that I had when I was working as an online rep in a call center. Which is how I ended up here, today, nearly twenty-nine years old and still in college.
I thought about all of that as I paid the proctor for monitoring my exam and walked back to my car. I slowly drove off campus, being flooded again with the sight of students walking to and from class on the campus. They had no idea how much I envied them in that moment, those lucky students who were able to attend class IN CLASS instead of via the Internet, who could go on campus and have the college experience. I fought back a sudden urge to cry as I looked at my own life and realized what a disservice I had done to myself when I quit taking advantage of the opportunity I’d had to be one of those students. I know I will never get to have that life now, and I know that I’ll most likely be in my mid-thirties by the time I can finish my degree.
For the most part, I’m at peace with the choices I’ve made thus far in my life, good and bad. Every single step I’ve taken has led me to where I am now, and overall I love my life. It’s true that I have no idea where I would be if I had chosen a different path and continued college, and that I wouldn’t necessarily be happier than I am now. But for a moment last night, I vividly remembered moments on campus during that first semester that I attended college, and I ached for that happy time.
I’m not exactly sure why my visit to campus yesterday affected me so deeply, but even today the melancholy feeling that I’d made a terrible mistake clung to me. There’s really nothing I can do but live with the regret, and remember that feeling so that I continue to push myself. If I can stay committed to college this time, and finally graduate, then maybe I’ll be able to find peace with the mistakes that I made.