I recently read an article in one of my son’s college magazines that gets mailed out to parents and supporters of the college that brought back many memories for me. At this time in my life with my son currently in college, I sometimes think back to many of my own college experiences. Reading the particular article in my son’s college magazine brought back even more memories for me since the woman who was featured reminded me so much of myself at that age. The woman described in the article was the leader of the college’s student government, and she was involved in ground-breaking for several of the college’s buildings. She was recognized by the state senate, obviously had a very positive impact on the college, and has gone on to be very successful in her career.
College provides students with so many wonderful opportunities, not only for academic success, but also for involvement in an infinite array of activities and experiences. I have been thinking back on those times this week and find it difficult to believe that so much time has passed since my college years in my home state of New York. Being involved in just about every imaginable activity at my university in Buffalo, whether as a leader or member, broadened my horizons and filled my cup to overflowing. The only thing I was really never involved in was a sorority, as that is just not who I am. I recall that, during my first year in college, I had to learn to create a balance because I was taking a huge course load (almost double full-time), working part-time, being a member of the women’s track team (and attending every meet, including those out-of-state), and being involved in many clubs and groups as a leader and/or member. Of course, I was also involved in several music groups, as well, including chorus, wind ensemble, and band. I ultimately decided to leave work behind so I could more fully enjoy all that my university experience had to offer.
In my first year as an undergraduate, I was the treasurer of several student heritage-based clubs and publicly-represented the clubs at many different events on campus. I was also a member of three political clubs, including student government. I was the most bold and pushy member of the group – even more than any of the leaders who mostly happened to be from in or around New York City! I remember talking with the student government president who was hesitant to introduce herself to the state’s governor at an event we attended. I told her to watch how it’s done! I first walked up to one of the governor’s two big, burly, armed body guards and made some small talk, and then, started speaking with the governor. (I made sure the body guards could see my empty hands at my side as I approached.) My student government peer – who should have been much more confident than me, who was four years older than me, and who was from the big city – was dumbfounded, and left standing there with her mouth gaping open. It was so funny! I loved it. I have to say that she had a new-found respect for me after that, and she knew she could call on me for the courage to step up and do something when it was needed.
Attending a large state university as well as – later – a smaller state college, also gave me many opportunities to meet people of all different backgrounds and careers. I rubbed shoulders with several university and/or college presidents and vice presidents (and some of their families); deans; senators; congressmembers; state assemblymembers; CEOs (and some of their families); celebrities; and international dignitaries. I always looked for opportunities to talk with people, to meet people, to learn from people, and therefore, to further develop myself. My dad always said that there is no one better to do something than yourself, so I always tried to live by that. If no one else would do something, then by golly, guess who would step up. I would always try to be the first person to do it! Why sit around and wait? My dad also held the philosophy that if you don’t do something, it doesn’t get done. Therefore, much of my motto in my family takes after that – and Nike’s: “Just do it!” Of course, I have learned throughout the years that it is sometimes better to think realistically about something first before just going ahead and doing it! I’m sure I made at least a couple of enemies out there by just doing it and not thinking first.
At the smaller state college that I attended after I completed my first master’s degree, I had the opportunity to be involved in student government again when pursuing my teaching certificate. I attended a day in the state capitol set aside for the state university system to meet with state legislators, and was recognized for college leadership by the State University System Chancellor. At this event and while meeting with a respected state assemblymember, he offered me an internship opportunity, and I accepted it. I didn’t know how I was going to make it work, but I did. It was a wonderful opportunity because I, again, got to meet and talk with so many people; represent the assemblymember on a couple of occasions for major projects; accompany him to several city events, including ground-breakings, and outreach at the state psychiatric center and cancer institute; and complete much outreach and research. As a ‘thank you’ for my work on one project, a gentleman took me out to eat on one occasion and gave me some artwork as a gift, which I still have and also brings back memories of that time.
I was also very privileged to work closely with the Dean of Students at the smaller state college that attended. I was a writer, and shortly thereafter, a paid editor of the college’s student newspaper, and I wrote themed articles that the Dean was interested in sharing with the campus community. I would go and interview the Dean, and he trusted me to author the articles in such a way as to capture the essence of what was desired to be conveyed. Of course, I proved myself to him by his first reading my articles that had already appeared in the student newspaper. He and I met and talked every couple of weeks, and we had a good run of educating the student body about important topics such as student housing and residence life; expectations of behavior; activities available to students; and so on. The Dean also invited me to be a student member of a college committee that he chaired, and I accepted, being a contributing member of the group who I dare say was also humble enough to listen and learn. It was also through the Dean and the International Studies Director that I was invited to attend a formal dinner event with them through Leadership Buffalo as a student representative of the college, and I became a member of this group prior to moving to Georgia. When I think back on my work with the Dean, I am very appreciative and have fond memories of it. Within about five years of my moving on from the college, the Dean tragically passed away, and is sorely missed by everyone who knew him.
But, also looking back on all of this, and out of all of my experiences and people who I knew, I was unable to launch my career in my home state. I searched for work in college administration all throughout my home state for one year, and did not receive any offers. I probably could have worked in government or politics in some form or fashion, but I did not consider myself to be a politician – I like to be a supporter of the politicians and work behind the scenes to help. After I earned my teaching certificate, I also searched all around my home state for work in teaching, and also did not receive any offers. I was poor, I was broke, and I needed money just to feed myself.
So, I started to look outside of my home state to start my career. I was a little bit older, in my late 20s, before I “found” my calling, and decided to pursue it. I had volunteered for a year as a Sunday school teacher at a church and fell in love with teaching – after I earned my graduate degree in college administration. I knew that I wanted to teach, and I couldn’t just continue living on substitute teaching in many different school systems in my area – driving all over the countryside all the time – and having nothing to show for it at the end of the day. I could not pay rent, I could not pay my student loan, I was eating Ramen noodles, and I had no retirement income or benefits. It created a huge amount of stress and actually made me ill.
Therefore, in order to survive, I interviewed throughout the East Coast for work in education. I was recruited in my home state to attend a teacher hiring convention in Atlanta, and that is how I came to Georgia and taught in DeKalb County for five years as a tenured teacher. I am so thankful to this day for that opportunity that was given to me. My future boss hired me on the spot in my initial in-person interview with her. She is the lady who gave me a chance, and I will forever be grateful!
As life goes, however, there are many twists and turns. I ended up leaving DeKalb County, and experienced many unexpected things in my marriage at that time that necessitated a complete revamping and restructuring of my entire lifestyle. I experienced an extremely difficult and lengthy transition period – not of my choosing – and afterwards, I invested and prioritized many years of quality time in raising and being responsible for my son as a divorced, single parent. And, let me just say, there are many highly personal reasons that I did that, and I would do it all over again. I put my career on hold for many years, but my son’s life, welfare, growth, and development are much more important. I am eternally grateful that I could restructure my lifestyle in a manner to raise him in the best way possible, considering the circumstances. I also later returned to graduate school again and earned my counseling degree, and I worked part-time in counseling before also returning to teaching only in recent years.
Now, things are full circle with my son in college. I look back and wonder where 20 years or 30 years have gone. They have passed in the blink of an eye, but I have many wonderful memories to think of and reminisce on. I sometimes think about what life may have been like had I taken a different path. But, I also know that I would not be where I am today – and have my wonderful son – had I done that. My life certainly ended up being very different than what I planned and intended, but life is all about choices, and I have tried my best to make the best choices with God’s help, considering what life has thrown at me.