"Success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life as by the obstacles that one has overcome while trying to succeed." Booker T. Washington
What might possess a woman at nearly fifty years of age to go back to school?
Some might say it was the fever that had me. In January/February of 2002 I came down with a bronchial infection and was off work as a substitute teacher for several days, verging into weeks - with swollen glands, sore throat, ear ache and then chest congestion. After three rounds of antibiotics I finally began to feel strong enough to push a grocery cart through the aisles of our local HyVee, in search of chicken soup, juice and pudding. Between naps and daytime TV fare, I 'surfed the net' where I stumbled across a program called BLS (Bachelor of Liberal Studies) Across Iowa. You could take classes from the comfort of your home; complete your degree online and take up to 9 months to finish a class! Earn a Bachelor's at your own pace, on your own time. Ten years ago, March 2002, I applied and was accepted to the University's distance learning program.
I was a patient at Iowa long before I was a student. For most of 1999 and about half of 2000, my husband and I made the three and a half hour drive from Lamoni to the university hospitals for my cancer diagnosis, successful surgery and follow-ups After he died of a heart attack in November of 2000, I found myself without health insurance: too young for his social security or Medicare and, since we had no children, ineligible for Medicaid.
My Southern Iowa home is only minutes from the Missouri state line, where only an associate's degree, not a teaching credential, was required to work as a substitute teacher. Certified teachers, however, earned more money and had health insurance. To become a certified teacher, I needed to finish my bachelor's degree, which I had originally started at the University of Denver in 1971. In 1980 I earned an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education from Antelope Valley College in California. The distance learning at Iowa looked like it might be the key to finally finishing my degree.
In 2003, ICON was a fledgling program and many classes were still completed via snail mail. It took a lot of self-discipline to get organized and stay on task to finish assignments, meet deadlines. I had started summer semester with plenty of time to work on assignments. In the fall of 2003 I was hired by one of the districts as a full time paraprofessional, managing a Computer Lab, so for the next session I had to sit myself down purposefully to work on assignments after work—evenings and weekends.
Some distance classes, like Finite Math, were difficult. Although I did pass, my GPA took a nosedive. I was on academic probation for the first time in my life. (Can you imagine being 50-something years old and finding yourself on academic probation?) The essay writing classes were my salvation—I found a series of them that I loved and they brought my GPA d back up. Then I tried to satisfy the foreign language requirement by taking Latin. It had been so many years since I'd studied French that I tested out at nearly first year. Spanish would have been the same. Latin, it seemed to me would be the study of a writer's language,—the origins of words I thought—how perfect! Still on dial-up, and with an aged desktop computer, I thought that I would have no need for a sound lab or to hear anything spoken and could concentrate on learning to read the great, ancient language. Latin turned out to be very difficult—even more than my Achilles heel math!
Thanks to an incredibly patient and supportive teacher, I managed to pass the class, but after that semester, found myself at the lowest point in my quest for a degree. Who was I kidding? As if I was back at the crossroads of my junior year at Denver in 1973: so close but so far to go. Had I come so far just to pitch in yet another proverbial towel? There were dark days of self-doubt as I pondered my choices. I was on the verge of once again, giving up. It was 2009.
Then, came an email: about an opportunity to transfer from the BLS to the BAS program. One of the advisors suggested I submit an application for the Applied Studies program,—that did not require the Foreign Language element, but Accounting—which I had already met by virtue of my accounting and business math classes, through my associates degree. Once accepted into the BAS program, the degree was within true reach. My standard line: that I might finally have my college degree before I turned 60 was looking truly possible.
The words of wisdom by Booker T. Washington are taped to the shelf above my desk They were included on a card with an arrangement of flowers from my siblings, my greatest cheering section, at the very beginning of my University of Iowa education journey, which finally culminated with my graduation on May 12, 2012.
Sometimes what seems like an obstacle is truly an opportunity. Perhaps, had I not been home, sick with that fever, I might never have come upon the website that led me to finishing up the degree I'd started on so many years ago. Meeting my self appointed challenges was important to me, not only to rise to them but for the sense of accomplishment that comes at long last.