Finding out who I really am

I can’t say I looked forward to my third trip through college.  If anyone thinks they are the slowest student ever—consider that it took me nine years to finish my first degree! For all the time I spent in college, I could have been a doctor!
I don’t remember much from those years. I was either fighting poverty, working full time, or struggling to keep up with my studies. I was emancipated early, married, and just sort of thrust into the world to sink or swim. Now there were fun things, like moving from Detroit to Colorado, but my days were mostly toil and I lacked the perspective I see in many of you who are the age I was then. That first degree was more of a personal quest than a carefully planned preparation for a career that suited me. I went to work in our family business after graduation, and our three children were born.
Even in those days I knew I was a writer. Just didn’t know what I was going to write about.
I reentered college nineteen years later to get my teaching credential. Once more, a lot of work as I was doing it while teaching full time in an in-service program.
This time I am here, at age 54, just to get enough credits to renew my teaching license. I want to stay licensed in my profession, but I am not working as a teacher. Instead, the joy in my life is writing. Five years ago, I came down with cancer. I recovered completely, but what I had to do to have a full recovery in my mind helped me find that writing voice I always knew I had. So I had this primary motivation to keep myself employable as a teacher, but with a sneaky little agenda to strengthen my writing and let that become something more than it is.

So while I was not exactly looking forward to going back to college, I can already see the effect in my life. I have learned to pitch stories to my editor and increased my writing income. People have noticed the difference in my writing as I have incorporated the corrections from my instructor. I am reaching out to literary agents and publishers to pitch the book I have written about my cancer experience. In this space I’ll give advice about returning to school, staying healthy as a student, keeping grades up, managing student debt, seeking academic advice, and hopefully, be helpful and supportive to my fellow students as they work to find out who they really are.

-Theresa Ward


The Risk of Trying

I didn’t want to go to school.

At the end of high school I had only partially finished my primary education. This was because homeschoolers are not rigidly tested before graduation, so when my parents handed me a diploma and called it good, no one questioned the authenticity. The truth is that after a couple divorces, some mental illness thrown in on a parent’s part, and six siblings to look after each other, school was not a priority. Therefore I had little high school knowledge, a situation which left plenty of holes in my confidence. I felt uncomfortable around well-learned people. The moment a conversation turned to a topic I had missed in high school I went silent, nodded my head, and said “yeah” a lot. I faked understanding, and wasn’t quite sure how to go about changing that dynamic without admitting humiliating confusion.

When I graduated four and a half years ago (yes, I claimed graduation despite its being less than accurate) I joined the dance company portion of the non-profit I had worked with for years. I felt this would be a place I could fit in without having to understand the things I’d skipped over. But these women were sharp – which seems to be unusual as far as dancers go. We read intense books and articles about culture and society and discussed them in person or through email. As a result, even dancing I felt like a fish out of water. Dance was my comfort zone.

At the time, this seemed unfair and unfortunate. Could I never fit in? Then, in the book we were discussing, I read about the importance of women’s education, and how it was changing third world countries. This vital component to thriving cultures was so often out of reach. Maybe I did want to get an education, since I could. Why though? I didn’t want to blend in. Not anymore. At the risk of sounding cliche, I wanted to make a change in the world. I knew without a better education few people would listen to any ideas I might have. Since I couldn’t take me seriously, how would anyone else?

Swallowing my pride, I took my first couple of college classes, dipping my toe into the waters of secondary education to see how I might adapt. I didn’t start drowning like I had secretly feared. But I did have the suspicion that I worked twice as hard as everyone else to produce the same end result. I lacked the previous learning experiences I knew others would take for granted. During that semester I wrote my first essay, received grades for the first time, had classmates, and experienced what school was like with a teacher. I saw each road block as an obstacle course, and found myself wondering at times why in the world I would do this to myself. No one had made me try college. People would understand if I skipped this chance and found other ways to hack it in society. Still, if I didn’t give it a shot, I knew I’d chew myself out for cowardice.

Those initial months screamed intensity into my semi-normal life, and more panic than I’d like to admit. Oddly, I liked it. I enjoyed learning with a professor who could offer help. I relaxed a little when I found college provided resources, and for the first time I felt un-intimidated about education. Maybe I could do this after all. Whether or not school turned out to be a good choice financially, I found confidence I had lacked for the last decade.

In hindsight, the most important decision of my education happened before I stepped foot in my college. I decided to try. I didn’t know what I could lose, but I’ve found I have the world to gain.

Best of luck to anyone else scared to try. It’s worth it.



I Finally Have Homework!

Pleased to be Hard at Work


Learning to Appreciate Education

After 4 years attending and living at a competitive and highly structured New England Prep school, my overly stimulated mind needed a break. When a scholarship arrived from the only college I had applied to, I felt obligated to leave my backpacking dreams behind and take advantage of a good financial opportunity. From 2009-2010, I attended Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island where I studied Sports/Entertainment/Event management. To this day, I have only great things to say about the school and its reverse curriculum. I even recommend it for those of you looking for a more hands on approach to education, especially for those of you who know exactly what you want to do or have learning differences. Event planning was not what I wanted to do, however, and I spent most of my year doing everything in my power to raise my grades and transfer. To be honest, I did not have much of a life that year aside from playing Field Hockey on my school’s team and I felt like a hamster spinning its wheels in-order to go spin more wheels at another college. My plans to transfer quickly changed however when I got scouted by a modeling agency while visiting my boyfriend (still the same guy) one weekend in New York. Before I knew it, I had deferred from the new school I had been accepted to and was on a bus with one duffel bag and a $100 dollar bill in my wallet. I had never wanted to model before but at the time it seemed like the answer to all my prayers.

Like im sure most of you can imagine, modeling is not as glamorous as some may assume. Although there was a lot I loved about it, especially the fact that every day was different, there are reasons why I am no longer doing it. I realized quickly that my first agency, who “loaned” me funds at first to get on my feet, was ultimately taking way more money from me then agreed upon and taking double cuts from my job. When I tried to break free from my contract, even with the help of an attorney, I had no luck. In an effort to still keep clients and pay bills, I began working with a freelance agency in secret whose focuses primarily was showroom modeling and fit modeling. This meant I worked mostly with designers in their studios or for buyers markets during fashion week. For a lot of models, this is how they continue to pursue print and commercial work while also paying rent. Eventually, I stopped showing up to my other agency’s castings and worked full-time with my freelance agency. Financially it was great at first and I got to move Queens into the city, I enjoyed traveling and appreciated all the work I was getting but it eventually took its toll on me both mentally and physically. There were two months at one period of time where I worked every single day, sometimes from 6am to 9 or 10pm. I developed anxiety for the first time in my life and was heavily scolded if I got even the slightest bit of a sunburn! Ultimately it was me who agreed to each job but I felt I owed it to the world to take advantage of an opportunity that definitely had a shelf life. After 4 years in New York and 2 of them spent completely drained, my agent actually sat me down and asked me if I was happy. I was not. She gave me her blessings and I moved home to Maine for a year to get my mind back on track and re-thought the whole school thing.

I can’t say I know what I want to do exactly, or that I am the type of person that does well with online classes (lesson learned this semester), or that I particularly enjoy school work most of the time. But deciding to go back gave me back my power and has helped me to pick myself back up and explore my real interests. Education, for the most part, does not have a shelf life.


The Time I Believed I Could

“Elizabeth, it’s not going to happen- you cannot graduate this year but, you can walk next year with your original graduation class”, my counselor said warmly with a smile as I sat numb on her couch. “ but, you don’t understand…I have to graduate so I can join the ministry training program in the Fall at my church. They offer accredited college courses and I need to have a diploma in order to enroll!” I cried. “You don’t really want to go to college though do you? You aren’t really college material-maybe after you take the make-up course in the summer, you can get your GED. “

That moment shouted to my heart that I wasn’t meant for college life. So, I did as my counselor instructed: go to summer school, retake the course, and test for my GED. I did enroll in the training program at my local church, and took the courses needed for my training and they could e transferred to any accredited college if I planned to pursue a degree elsewhere, but having been told I wasn’t cut out for college, I put college life in the back of my mind. From the local program, I transferred to South Carolina after two years of courses and training to help with the program at a new church. Then life happened- I met a man, we said I do, we found jobs, we found out we were expecting our daughter, bought a house, then came another daughter 4 years later, and then we lost our jobs and moved back to Colorado.

Life happens so fast that I forgot that I had college dreams that went unfulfilled.

My husband and I found ourselves wondering what to do next. He too had began at an engineering college but left to pursue the ministry we both worked for and his credits were just sitting there being unused. After a short time landscaping, he was hired to work with a local online school that eventually led him to work for a non-profit mentoring agency. There, he was encouraged to go back to school to complete his degree. I was in complete agreement because of how necessary a degree is in our society. I’m happy to say that after 2 years at the engineering school, 6 years on hiatus, and 8 years working full-time and attending school…HE IS DONE!!! But somewhere around year two of him being in college here in Colorado, the conversation came up about returning myself.

I gave every excuse known to man about why I couldn’t return and how we couldn’t afford college for me; how I wasn’t meant for campus life. My husband suggested I try online classes, just to get my feet wet. After much encouragement from friends and family, I took the plunge. Initially, it was to prove my high school counselor wrong. I was scared out of my mind as I downloaded the syllabus to my first class. I am pretty sure I fainted when I looked at the course schedule. And with that, I began my own academic journey. I have now been taking online classes part-time through my local community college for the past 5 years. Part-time because I am a woman who wears many hats- all of which I love. It has proven to be very difficult at times and demanding because of the workload. Other times it has felt so freeing because I don’t have to go to a class on campus (which petrifies me more than a massive explosive diaper or vomiting child). I found my stride with online courses and I will be finishing up within two semesters…finally.

My counselor’s words may have been my reason to go back to school to prove her wrong, but they aren’t why I have stayed in school. Somewhere around my third year of college, I believed I could- even with late nights, sick children, job losses, new children, and a host of other reasons that could tell me to stop, I kept going because I truly believed I could do it. All I have to do to remind myself why I am really attending college is hug my son, or look into the eyes of my beautiful girls. I want a better life for them and I want their futures to be bright. I want them to see an example of perseverance through my life. I stopped believing I couldn’t and began believing I could. Not on my own strength, but by the grace of God and with the help of my support system of family and friends.

Friend, I don’t know what is keeping you from hitting the apply icon on the admissions page of the school you are thinking about. I don’t know what circumstances you may find yourself in that make you feel “less than able” to walk on that campus. You may have been told no all of your life, but I am here to tell you YES!

You can do it.

You can make it work.

It will be hard but it will be worth it.

It will require a lot of effort and dedication.

Do yourself the favor: enroll and keep going.

Don’t let life pass you by; the longer you take to say yes, the longer it will take to finish.

I believe you can, and I will continue to tell you I until you believe you can too.