Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Journey To Fifty: Thinking About College

I spent the other day thinking about college.

My youngest son is away at school, everything fully paid, experiencing what life at an HBCU has to offer a kid who mostly grew up in the suburbs.

He is thirty years my junior and in listening to him talk about his campus, rail on the food or the administration, his courseload and how busy he is, and wanting to come home for Thanksgiving Weekend, I thought about my own experience all those years ago.

Tuskegee, Philander Smith, and Fisk were the only three colleges my late father talked to me about when I was growing up.  There wasn't an expectation that we would do anything other than attend an HBCU and Lincoln University, just on the other side of Jeff City, as not in my father's plan for my life.

Plans and life changes.

In the regrouping of life, I was back in Jeff City at my parents and enrolled at Nichols Career Center.  Daddy put on his practical hat and told me that it was a noble profession in 1983 to be a secretary.  So I took the classes, kept a 4.0, and graduated a year later with my certificate in Secretarial Technology.  Before I could blink, I had a job with the State of Missouri and like many of my counterparts, should have been marching down the aisle as they were married or getting married by twenty.  Well, those that were working and not those up on the hill.

Looking back, I wonder why my father didn't encourage me to still go away to school.  I could have, I was single, I had a certificate in my hand that could have landed me a good campus job in any of those three states.  I was still very fresh and naive, despite the life tragedy that had consumed the past two years of my life.

1984, I enrolled at Lincoln University of Missouri as a full-time, non-traditional student.

I worked full-time and took classes in the evenings from 6-9pm, Monday-Thursday.  I went to summer school taking 6-9 hours to keep on a 30-hour academic track.  I wanted to be like the other college students and participate in campus activities and not feel like I was wearing the mantle of a grown up when I was only 20 years old.

My growth and maturity happened slowly when I stood up to my step-mother, moved out into my second, first apartment, the one I found on my own and paid for with the money I earned working in retail while I was at Nichols.  I bought a car and recruited some friends from college to teach me how to drive.  I got my license when I was 21.  I was still going to classes and still working, had broken up with the boyfriend who seemed to just want to stay in our hometown, and started considering the possibilities, never wanted to live in Jeff City.

Like a lot of my peers, I was attracted to the sorority life and began my university studies with one sorority in mind - the same one that every woman in my family was a member of.

One has to understand a moment of my life growing up.  I was hazed almost daily for the many, many years I lived in the same house as my step-mother and older step-sisters.  I grew to despise women, yet yearn for a true sisterhood and the possibility of what a close female friendship looked like.  There were girls growing up who knew me and we were friends, to the extent that we could be, whenever my step-mother let me hang out.  It wasn't until Michigan that I formed a deep and lasting friendship with a girl who is closer to me than a sister.  She traveled back to Jeff when my first love and I found I was pregnant and my pops and his wife put me back on the first train to my dad and step-mother - the very woman who threatened to kill me that landed me in Michigan at age 16 in the first place.  Anyway, as a motherless child and hazed step-daughter, my view of women was through foggy glasses.

So I began observing the sororities on campus and noticed a few things.

I was pretty but didn't think it because my step-mother's jealously beat that out of me.  I didn't want to be beat up to join a sisterhood and the one I was looking at got kicked off the yard and the line was taken over by grad chapter.  When the new members came on campus in their paraphernalia, the older members refused to acknowledge them.  That was sisterhood?

Ultimately, I never pledged, while I was initiated into a little sister organization of one of the sororities, learned the history, the founders, the symbols, the chants, went to Regionals, and even participated in the little sister step shows, being on line ended up not to be in my future.  By divine intervention and providence? I got pregnant with my older son, despite faithful use of birth control and a condom. So life turned me in a different direction and I finished my junior of college, got married, and moved to Chicago.  I was 23 years old.  And felt old.

Chicago opened up the door for me to see a world of possibility and I never wanted to go back to Missouri.  My husband and I had another son and I was settling into to my great job on the Loop, thanks to that certificate and three years of college, I was making more than some of my college mates who graduated with their bachelor's degree.

That senior year, though,took ten years.

I never felt able to stop being a mother to just go back to school full-time to finish.  I had another son and while Chicago was my heart, the hustle and bustle of the city was not conducive to working full-time, going to school full-time,and raising sons.

Divorce, life changes, and back to Jeff I went with three sons and a wad of money.  How did this happen to me, why didn't I chose another place, wasn't Tuskegee in the rural south?  But ,my step-mother mellowed a bit and my father was retired so they opened up the upstairs part of my childhood home and gave me refuge from a painful divorce to regroup.

A great job was waiting for me, again with the state, this time in a totally different department with a woman who would change the fate of my life.

My late mentor helped me discover so many possibilities in myself and opened up opportunities for my gifts to shine.  She was an early fan and supporter of my poetry and made it possible for my work to be performed in state celebrations.  Anything I wanted to try, she paved the way.  The only thing I didn't do that she recommended was pledge grad chapter of a sorority.

When life unfolded again, through her encouragement, I went back to school, Columbia College, to finish that senior year. I was 30, wow, was that old or just beginning?

My now husband and I met in that life-change period and he encouraged me to just go full-time.  I did and didn't look back, I went onto graduate school with my sons along for the ride.

Listening to my son talk about being a Student Government Senator and a singer, considering pledging his father's fraternity,and forming life long friendships, sent me on a walk down memory lane.

Life has a way of unfolding in the way it is supposed to happen.

I am pleased with the things I was able to accomplish.  Tuskegee, Philander Smith, and Fisk were not in my life story, but my son is at an HBCU, I attended an HBCU , my older son attended Philander Smith, and my daughters know all about Spelman and Bennett.  They are the legacy I have created and the story I have written.  

College is a magical time for a young person.  It is the last time they get to really explore their interests and bridge to the marathon journey of adulthood.  The time should not be rushed.  It should be savored.

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