This weekend we traveled to Hays, Kansas for my commencement ceremony at Fort Hays State University. I would call it my graduation ceremony, but since I actually graduated in December 2014 , I requested that everyone in my family refer to it as my commencement ceremony.
So, to mark this big occasion in my life, I have decided to blog about what I learned during my college journey.
Things that I learned in college:
- Be Creative
I started out college as an elementary education major, and while I was taking those classes, it was easy to be creative because it was expected in that field. However, there were general education classes that took a little extra work to be creative in. It was my personal goal in each major paper that I wrote to find some way to include a Dr. Suess or Walt Disney quote. I usually made this happen in the opening, closing, or my personal favorite- the title! I had some teachers that truly appreciated the lengths that I went to in order to add my own personal touch to each assignment, but some did not seem as amused!
One particular instance was in an art history class. The assignment was to choose an artist and write about one of his/her works of art. I, of course, decided to use Dr. Suess as my artist, and use the book “I Can Read with My Eyes Shut” as the specific work of art. The instructor was not amused, and made it clear that she was not thrilled with my choice. Although she did not agree with me, after she read my paper and listened to my presentation over Dr. Seuss's work of art, I ended up getting an A on the paper, she admitted that I was right about my choice and that it was a good one!
- Not all teachers will like you, but that is okay because in life not everyone will like you.
Since I was homeschooled, I always got along with my teacher, but that was not the case in college. However, it is a very important life lesson to learn. There are going to be people in life who do not like you, people who will not always agree with you, and there will be people whom you do not like either. The important thing is to learn how to respectfully deal with them because that is just part of life.
- Being a “virtual student” doesn’t mean it was easy
It takes a lot of discipline to be an online student. I would write out my schedule for the week, and I had to stick to it. Since I was in online classes, I absolutely had to do all of the assigned reading, because not all teachers record lectures for you to listen to. There was a certain amount of “self teaching” involved. I found during my time as an online student that a majority of people thought that I was a virtual student because I was not smart enough to do school on campus. It was always very rewarding when some of these “said people” (and even instructors) admitted that they were wrong and admired the work that I did. Although being an online student was harder for me at times, it truly was what was best for me since I had to take into account my health issues.
- Online classes do not have to be impersonal
Some online professors just give you the assignments and tell you to read the book and take your tests. However, there are other professors who take the time to really get to know the online students. They not only read all of the discussion board posts, but reply to them as well. I really looked forward to hearing back from my professors about the papers that I had poured myself into. I was lucky to have a handful of such wonderful professors who took the time to get to know me even though I was “only” an online student.
- It is okay to change your mind
When I started college, I heard the statistic that on average, students change their major three different times in college. At the time, I thought that was absolutely crazy! I wondered how anyone could be so indecisive about what they wanted to do with their life and what they wanted to go to school for. However, I learned that it does happen. In life we grow, our priorities change, and as a result of that, our desires and passions sometimes take a different turn, and that is okay. For the record, I did end up changing my major 3 different times!
- I’m not dissapointed that I didn’t get the normal “college experience”
When we made the trip to Fort Hays this weekend, I was surrounded by “normal” college students. It really hit me how different I was from so many of them when we went to the Dean’s reception. As I sat at the back, with Ellie in the stroller next to me, there were people all around me talking and laughing with each other. They all looked at me and Ellie as if we were out of place, but I didn’t care. The fact is that if I had decided after high school to go to Emporia State University (which was a big consideration since I wanted to go into the teaching field), my life would be so different right now. If I had to go back in time, I would do it all over again the exact same way. As I sat there with Ellie and my mom, I wasn’t jealous of the other people there who were only worried about turning in their last assignments and getting moved out of the dorm before heading home for the summer, but I was happy to be exactly where I am.
- Stand up for yourself
It is easy in college (and life) to just let people walk all over you and make decisions for you. I was raised that it is important to respectfully stand up for yourself, think for yourself, and be your own advocate. That point was driven home during my college experience. If I felt that a grade was wrong, or that something should be different, I approached the professor about it. In the end, the professors (generally) appreciated and respected my questions, concerns, and thoughts.
- It is obviously really important to be able to watch a movie and write a paper about it.
I can’t even count on my fingers and toes how many movies I had to watch and then apply to a certain topic during my time in college. I am not even referring to movies that were educational! It seemed like in each class I took I had to watch one or more movies, and then write a paper about a certain psychological aspect of that movie. I have to admit, this was one of the things I least enjoyed about college- I would much rather write a research paper!
- I want to do more because I found my passion
Once I realized that my life long dream to be a teacher was not going to happen due to health issues and before I realized that I wanted to major in Psychology, my main goal was to just get done with school. At that point in time I actually switched from an Elementary Education major to a General Studies major. I still wanted to get good grades, but my main goal was to just get done. Then I took an Abnormal Psychology class with an amazing professor, and my whole perspective changed. It was during that semester that I realized that I didn’t want to just be done with school. but that I found what area of study that became important to me. I want to help people. More specifically, I want to help other families who have lost their children. Project Robby has really helped to confirm that this is what I want to do, and I have decided to pursue a master’s degree in counseling with the intention of being able to help people through grief counseling. I am not sure at what point I will be able to go onto the master’s program as it is expensive and time consuming, but achieving this goal has become a top priority for not only me, but also for my entire support system (a.k.a my family)!
- I have an amazing family
I have always known that I have an amazing family. We have always been very close, but during my college experience I truly realized how amazing and supportive my family is. I certainly could not have finished if it hadn't been for their constant support, love, and encouragement. There were times that I didn't think that I could keep going. During college, I had two semesters that made me question if I could continue on in college.
The first semester was when my health issues hit and hit hard, and I was diagnosed. At that time, I was taking classes at Wichita State University, and not only were they on a large campus with a lot of walking, but they were also scheduled at night. My pain increased as the day went on, so by the time those classes rolled around in the evening, I could barely walk. Riding in the car was extremely painful and so the ride across town took what little energy I had left. My mom was the one who helped me wash my hair, get dressed, drove me to classes, and helped me get to those classes in a wheelchair. Yes, it was that bad. It was that semester that I learned that Wichita State was not going to be the college for me.
The second semester that I didn't think I would finish was the semester that Robby was born and then died. By that time I had learned about Fort Hays State University and their virtual program. I was an online student, and doing very well. The flexibility of the online classes was working out great with my health issues and I was thrilled that I didn't have to ride in a car to get to any of my classes! Then, I went into preterm labor with Robby, and he was born too early and he died. My doctor wrote a note so that the teachers at FHSU realized that I was really having a true health crisis, and I wasn’t just trying to get out of work or making excuses. However, the note was only good while I was actually in labor-not afterwards when I was dealing with the pain and grief of losing my baby. Thankfully one of my professors was extremely compassionate for my circumstances, but the others, not so much. They didn't “know” me, and to them I was just another online student. I not only had to continue taking the classes that I was enrolled in, but I had to go back and make up the work that I had missed while I was in labor and burying my baby- and I had to do so in a very timely fashion. I thought that I would just drop the classes, but unfortunately, It was beyond the drop date and the money could not and would not be refunded.
Even though we would have lost out on the money, I still wanted to quit. I just wanted to say screw it and be done for the semester and possibly permanently. They were only grades and I couldn't imagine being able to focus on a full class load while dealing with my grief.
My mom is the person who encouraged me to continue on, not just because there wouldn't be a refund, but because she knew that it would be for the best. I don’t think that I have ever thanked her for doing that for me, for nudging me in the direction of continuing on. If it weren't for her, I would have quit that semester, and quite possibly never gone back. So, thank you mom, for pushing me gently into realizing that I needed to continue on that semester, even though it was hard. It was so incredibly hard.
My dad has been one of my biggest supporters of school ever since I was little. Although my mom was our teacher, my dad was always so supportive of whatever we were doing in school, and that didn't change once I started college. Although I do enjoy school, I do have my moments of meltdowns, and even through those, my dad has always been encouraging and supportive.
I also don’t think I could have made it through without my brother, Justin. He tutored me through all of my statistics classes, and proof read each and every major paper that I turned in! He was my biggest cheerleader, and I know he will continue on being my biggest cheerleader throughout my grad school experience.
I hadn't planned on actually going to the commencement ceremony, but my brother is the one who convinced me to go. I finally decided to walk not for myself, but for my family, because they were the driving force behind me. The actual walking experience was actually a lot of fun. Although I didn't know anyone beforehand, we spent plenty of time in the line up together, and it was a good experience to visit with the other graduates in line! It was nice to have the accomplishment of finishing college recognized.
I wish that my Pop Pop could have been here to see me graduate. Since he was older and not very tech savvy, he had trouble grasping the concept of an online education, but he tried! He always asked me how my “computer studies” were going. There wasn't a time that I talked to him that he didn't not only ask how my “computer studies” were going, but he always made sure to let me know how proud of me he was and all that I was accomplishing.Pop Pop was so invested in what I was doing in school that at any point in each semester Pop Pop could not only tell you what classes I was taking, but what my current grade in each class was! The very last time I talked to Pop Pop on the phone which happened to be the night that he passed away was not any different. I called to check in with him, and it happened to be the night before my summer classes were to start. While we were on the phone he told me how proud he was of me, wished me good luck, and told me how he knew that I was going to do so well.
I know that if it had been possible for Nanny to be at the commencement ceremony this weekend she absolutely would have been there with bells on! Unfortunately, Nanny would not have been able to make the three hour trip up there plus all of the walking that would have had to have been done. Thankfully we have technology on our side, so Nanny was able to watch a video that my mom took of me being announced, recognized for my honors, and actually walking across the stage! Nanny has always been an encourager to me, and for that I am truly thankful. She has been nothing but supportive of me through my whole college experience.
I am so lucky to have a husband who is willing to do whatever it takes to help me reach my goals of helping people through grief counseling. Even though we are young, he has always supported me in my school desires, and for that I am truly blessed. He is completely on board and doing all that is possible for the next step in the process- graduate school.
Thank you to everyone who supported me during my journey to my bachelor’s degree. Although I am not going to pursue a master’s degree right now, I feel certain that I will be doing so in the near future. I know that it won’t be easy, but with the amazing amount of love and support that I have, I know that I will be successful at whatever I put my mind to.