Ten years ago, I started taking classes at Springfield Technical Community College. I'd been interested in going back to school for a long time, but the timing was never right. Finally, I realized that would always be true unless I specifically made it a priority. At about the same time, I quit the job I had in a dispute with an employer over my wages. The dispute ended up in court, which doesn't matter much now. But it mattered then, because said dispute made me eligible for unemployment. So instead of just going out and getting any old job, I went to STCC, and my second life as a college student began. Two weeks ago, I sat for my written Masters exams, last week was the oral portion, and just like that, I was done. I am now a graduate of UMass Amherst, twice over.
Obviously, this summation glosses over a lot of details. OK, it outright skips over and blows by most of them. Some I've written about previously, like the royal screwing I got courtesy of the UMass computers, the summer between undergrad and graduate school, or my much more documented career as a grad student. Many things happened long enough ago that they predate any and all online blogging I've ever done. Most of my junior college career falls into that time frame. Again, some of it I've written about. How I spent 9/11, for example. But most of my higher education story is still untold.
And now that I'm at the end, after a week's worth of reflection, all those details seem less important. The journey may be what matters most in the end (and I suspect I'll be writing about some of those stories, to make sure they don't escape me), but right now, it is the destination that looms largest in my mind. And what comes next.
I've always wanted to be a writer. A paid writer, I should specify. And while I cannot explain it, since I know plenty of writers, and know of many more, I've always thought that, if I was going to be a writer, I had to be educated. Which meant that silly little piece of paper that announces to the world that you are smart. Or, in the case of a graduate degree, a masochist. And while I didn't have any piece of paper declaring either, I couldn't pursue my dream.
I know. Stupid, and plenty of evidence to the contrary. But that's what my brain convinced me was true.
So I've been sitting on a ton of ideas, some for a very long time. Some are articles, others are books. One is even a movie idea. Some are fiction, some non-fiction. And one, maybe two, have the potential to be fictional series, if I get really lucky. And now, after a week's worth of reflection, I realize that I no longer have my old excuse.
In the last four years, I've received three pieces of paper that say I'm smart. And while I was still in school, I could easily justify not pursuing my dream. School is time consuming, at the very least. I barely had time for all the things I had to do, and was required to do, let alone anything extra. So my ideas sat, some partially developed, many little more than ideas or book titles, jotted down in electronic notes to myself, sitting in my inbox as unread reminders of the life I always claimed to want.
As of the end of summer, I will no longer be a student. Even during the year I spent taking care of my personal life when my marriage ended, I still thought of myself as a student. Since the first day I walked into the admission office at STCC, all those years ago, "student" has been part of my identity. For ten years, I've been either taking classes, recovering from taking classes, planning what classes to take, or what school to go to next. And while I am not ruling out a return to school (I'm so conflicted about getting a PhD that it really deserves its own post), it is definitely time to add a new facet to my identity. After ten years of college, it's time to replace "student" with "writer".
In many ways, this has been the best ten years of my life. I've been working for tangible goals, and reached them one at a time. I've been stretching my mind, working with brilliant people, most of whom were my intellectual equals, and more than one or two my superior. I've been studying things that really interest me, and I've made insights that were both original and interesting to other people. I've honed my skill as a writer in ways I never thought possible. Ten years ago, I'd have told you I was a good writer, but with little conviction. That man had no clue what he was doing, and deep in his heart, he knew it. This one knows he is a wordsmith, and if given the opportunity, he can shine!
This is what my week of reflection has led me to. I've spent ten years, far too much money, and many hours of lost sleep to get where I am today. For ten years, I've been pursuing my educational dreams, and now it is time to pursue my life dreams. I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be to try to become the writer I've always wanted to be.
Now is the time to shine.