The Life of a “Non-Traditional” Student

I have rarely, if ever, taken the “traditional” route with anything in my life. School, work, relationships…I have never conformed to what a young woman is “expected” to do. I have had several jobs, in a variety of fields, trying to find out what I want to be when I grow up. I just turned 30 in March, and have been with my significant other for almost 10 years, but we haven’t married or had children yet. And did I mention he is 14 years older than me? I am pretty much okay with the direction my life has taken so far. I consider all of my experiences lessons I can share with others and use to help people when I become a therapist (yes I figured out what I want to be). But of all of my decisions, and my life’s unexpected twists and turns, my decisions regarding my education have been the hardest for me to reconcile.

School has always been a unique psychological trigger for me. I was born with congenital birth defects that affected my facial features. I had surgery for it in 8th grade but it left a permanent scar on my heart and soul. I was made fun of quite a bit in school and despite being book smart and always getting good grades, school was always a little more than I could deal with. Given the fact that high school is just as much a social experiment as it is an academic one, my misery was compounded¬†exponentially. I had very few friends. I didn’t go to my prom. I went to Homecoming once or twice but never had a “date”.¬†I had serious attendance issues, mainly because I didn’t want to face other kids and the possibility of being hurt. I played sick a lot, and when I was older, I would skip school – taking the bus to the mall all day or hiding out at the public library. I badgered my parents, begged, pleaded, cried, went to counseling, and finally got my GED the year I was supposed to graduate with my class, 1998. I got one question wrong on the GED test. It was a joke. I was the “smart one” in the family. All I ever heard growing up was how smart and talented I was and how I could be anything I wanted to be. If I had stuck it out in high school I probably would have ended up with a full ride to some prestigious college somewhere. So even though I got what I wanted, I pretty much felt like a failure. I had let my parents and the rest of my family down. All those high expectations everyone had for me…down the drain. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t face the pain and torment I was expecting in those classrooms.

Fast forward through a year-long stint away at college (yes you CAN get accepted to a four year school with a GED. I was shocked!) and several failed attempts at community college. What was wrong with me? I was given the gift of intelligence but couldn’t pull myself together enough to make it in college either? I shut down. Took a waitressing job. Met my boyfriend and just lived…but always in the back of my head was this nagging voice that said I COULD do it if I really wanted to. If I found the right school, figured out what I really wanted. I began to re-evaluate and decided I really wanted to be a mental health counselor. Well, that requires an education. So I found the Program for Experienced Learners at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL.

Eckerd College

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It is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I am taking human development classes with like minded adults and for the first time in my life, school is not a place to be feared or dreaded. It is a fun, interactive experience. I had forgotten how exciting it is to see the A at the top of your test or paper. I started my junior year this fall and it has FLOWN by! I am even planning (GASP!) more school – getting my masters’ when I finish at Eckerd next year. And I have received several scholarships! Just this week I got a letter awarding my $5000 for an essay I wrote about my life experiences.

I used to have this recurring dream. In it, I was reassuring my parents that I was going to class to finish my high school diploma, even though I had already gotten my GED. I guess it could be interpreted several ways. But when I found my calling, and found Eckerd, I stopped having those dreams. I have made my family proud and most importantly, I have made myself proud. I just had to figure out that life is a journey, not a destination, and just because you don’t know where you’re going doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride!

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