It was a warm humid day in early June. Excitement rose in my heart. The day had finally arrived and I was still somewhat amazed that I had actually gotten here! Between juggling night school, waitressing during the day and raising my four children, I couldn’t believe I had finally finished! I was going to receive my college diploma.
It had been a challenging couple of years. I had made a lot of sacrifices to get to this point. And with much help from family and friends, I had miraculously arrived.
I had made the decision to go back to college after I had left my husband. I needed a goal to focus on. Something to strive for that was completely different from the life I had lived. I though back to when I first went to look around the college I had chosen. It had originally been a teaching college, and I had decided to go back for my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Education and Psychology. The college offered a night program for adult students, and I enrolled in the two year course. Having already completed my Associate Degree I was able to transfer my credits over in order to enroll.
Being a single mother was actually a help in this instance, I received a substantial amount of financial aid. This was a sign to me that I was making a wise choice. The next challenge was the entrance exam. It had been quite a while since I had taken a test. I had no idea what to expect.
The first go around was eye opening. I had always done quite well in my English and Writing classes and this came easily back to me. But then I hit the math section. And I failed miserably. It’s ok! The lady at the testing site told me. You have 3 chances to pass this exam. Go home and study your math, and come back next week and try again. So I did. And I failed, again. I was devastated. Maybe this idea wasn’t going to work after all. Fear crept in my heart. What would I do if I failed again?? I already felt like such a failure that if I failed this entrance exam again, it would just make me feel even worse! I almost didn’t go back for that third test. I waited a month before I took it again. Waited until the very last opportunity to take it came up. You will do it this time, the testing lady exclaimed. I just know it!
I swallowed hard and sat down for test number three. I decided to skip to the math first and then finish the rest. I took a deep breath and plunged in. I tackled each question as best I could, finished the rest of the test, and turned my paper in to the kind lady. I sat down next to her desk as she proceeded to grade my last ditch effort. It seemed as though an eternity had passed. And all of the sudden she jumped up from behind her desk and whispered with glee: You did it!!!. You did it!! After three attempts, I finally passed and was on my way back to college.
I thought back to that day. I also thought back to my very dear friends who had helped me with my children. I couldn’t have done it without them. I thought about my aunt Judy, who offered to help me out financially until I graduated. I couldn’t have done it without her either.
I thought back to the new friends I had met. To the new things I had learned. To the many classes I sat through. Some I loved, others I just tolerated.
I thought back to our house fire, and how I had salvaged some of my books. I had brought them to class, even though they were charred and smelled of smoke.
And then I thought of my children and my parents. I hoped they were proud of me. That maybe somehow I was beginning to make some good decisions in my life.
My parents had come of course, to celebrate this big event with me. My sister had also come with her new baby girl. We all piled into my minivan and headed to the auditorium where the graduation would take place.
As my family settled in on the bleachers, I found the friends that I had spent the last two years with. All of us draped in our gowns and wearing our graduation caps. Excitement once again filled my heart and I felt so blessed to have had this opportunity. Not just to finish my degree, but to have done it with these other incredible women, all with their own stories of pain and accomplishment. We walked into the auditorium together and found our seats. The normal rituals of a graduation ceremony began, and I scoured the crowd in search of my family. I spotted them off to my left, and gave them a thumbs up sign.
Before I knew it, our row stood up and marched to the stage.
The moment I had been waiting for had arrived. They announced my name and I proceeded to walk across the stage, shake hands with a long row of professors, and receive my college diploma. I had officially earned my Bachelor of Arts in Education. As I walked across the stage to receive my diploma, my children clapped and yelled out “Go Mom!” Tears were streaming down my face. Part of me didn’t believe that the day would ever come. A part of me felt like my children would never be proud of me. And a big part of me left me that day.
“I did it!” my heart sang. I really did it! All by myself! Due to determination and hard work, I had done it! Who would have thought that not only did I graduate, but I did it with a 3.94 GPA! For the first time in so many years, I felt VICTORY!!
I felt empowered, and I felt proud of myself. When I put my mind to something, I can do it! I knew that now; I had proof. Holding that diploma in my hand was proof that persistence and determination do pay off.
So much of my life up to that point had been, at least in my mind, about failures. And there would be more to come. But on that hot, muggy day in June, I was victorious!!
The rest of the day was a blur and as I laid my down on my pillow that night, I cried. Tears of joy, tears of accomplishment, tears of pride. Probably for the first time in my adult life, I cried tears of happiness, not pain. It was a wonderful feeling. All the years of pain I had endured in my marriage, all the struggle of gaining back my freedom, all the hard work and determination had, in the end, paid off. I didn’t know right then and there what lay in store for me. And at that moment, I didn’t even care. What I had accomplished was enough for now. I wanted to enjoy this strange new feeling. I closed my eyes to go to sleep, but my smile continued on my face as well as in my heart. I had done it; I had really done it! Good night new college grad. Sleep well!
Written by Debbie Brown