Longbored Surfer

2007.07.16 Done with School

I just finished the last requirement for my bachelors degree. I feel like I've been working on this for so long that it's somewhat… weird to think that I'm… done. Done. What's that supposed to mean? Despite now having earned a degree, I'm not sure I know. I do know, though, that I'm thrilled to be done, and couldn't be more pleased with one of the biggest accomplishments of my life.

I didn't even want to go to college when I was in high school. I knew that my high school grades were crappy enough that I wouldn't get into a really nice school. I was bored enough with high school (me? bored? what's the name of this site again?) that I couldn't really imagine trying to plunge into another 4 years of school. What a waste of time, when I could learn things I really wanted to know on my own. Give me a computer, the internet, and I'm good to go.

I attended some college soon after high school. I didn't do very well, but I did at least pass the classes I took, albeit with less-than-stellar grades. I still knew school wasn't for me. I decided that I needed to take some away from school… and I didn't really know how long that time would be. I got a pretty decent job working at a mortgage company, spending time that was pretty important to me (looking back) both in becoming a bit of an adult, as well as spending good time with my parents. I soon went back to school for a little bit (really just to hunt woman (I really was only after one – Maria)), and shortly afterwards left to go serve in my church for a while (also important to adultness).

Spending a bunch of time in a third world country around people that don't have the same benefits causes one to reflect. This time, combined with the time previously spent working, was important to me. It made me realize the importance of an education, not necessarily for the piece of paper that you supposedly get at the end of it, nor for the edu-muh-cation and learnin’ that you get from it… but maybe from each of those things a little with additional reasons.

I think mostly I just realized that I liked to learn – not necessarily about the difference between the theme and mood of a piece of literature, or about the struggles of the serfs in the middle ages, but I still liked to saturate my brain with… stuff. I think at the time I liked to figure stuff out on the computer. I liked to sit down with a new program and a purpose and try to come up with something. I spent a good deal of time staring at hideous applications, like Microsoft Access (irony comes full circle on this one later on), and soaking up the logic and puzzles that riddle Excel. I just loved the puzzle, and I had plenty of them to figure out.

Upon returning from that church service, I went right to school. I knew what I wanted to do, and I wanted to get it started. I wanted to soak it all up and get into figuring things out. I know that all truths end up making a complete picture of things, and being a fan of logic and reason, I needed to fill in additional parts of the picture. I knew computers would be dynamic enough, not only at the time, but going forward that I should focus my time there – it helped that I adored my computer (Buy a Mac). I got into things, and I, possibly for the first time ever, loved school. I couldn't get enough of it. Chemistry, Biology, English… none of which I had really cared for before, I was all over. I was eating it up, and my grades were proving it (at least to myself).

Maria and I reconnected after she too spent time with our church, and I knew she was all I wanted – beautiful, smart, loving, and one of the kindest people ever. I asked her to marry me (employed cleaning pools at the time, making peanuts, really), and she actually accepted. At the time she too was in school, but 600 miles from me, and we had already played the distance game before. She was closer to finishing than I was (given that I had probably a total of 1 year of school under my belt, compared to about twice that for her), and some additional factors convinced us that we should let her finish first. Becoming a resident of a new state, according to the state schools, takes some time, and I didn't think out-of-state tuition was worth it. I bided my time, and supported her while she finished. I got a job and did my best to try to support our tiny family.

Maria finish school the spring before Cecilia was born (her birth story, in case you're into these sort of insanely-long blog entries). It was now my turn (at least according to the whole pre-marriage plan of "you finish first, then I'll go"). I needed a school that would let me attend at night, yet still offer me a legit bachelor's degree. My mother was hounding me to make sure I would actually finish school (and I should say "start", since that's generally the first step). Although there are a number of local schools, I decided on University of Phoenix. Their approach to catering to working adults, as opposed to kids fresh out of high school was what I needed. The fact that all classes were essentially at night helped as well. Despite their not-quite-Ivy-league image, it was the right place for me trying to support a family and go at the same time.

When it came down to it, I started school around the same time Maria finished. I took a few classes before Cecilia was born, then took too much time off afterwards. After restarting school some months later, I got into the longest groove of school, and went to school for essentially a year and a half, without stopping. Before ever starting night school, I had heard people saying, "Yeah, it's not the easiest way to go to school, but it worked out better for us in the end". Every Thursday night I found myself back with a great class of guys. In a great group of people were Flowbee, Chihuahua, Rambo, Special-J, Strude, (and others) as well as my two favorites – Ex-Austin and Milk. It was a consistent experience. Every 5 weeks we would start a new class, read the new stuff (though I think I might have been one of the few to actually read the books), learn the needed topic(s) and rattle out another project, presentation, paper, whatever.

I remember an instructor near the beginning of it all saying, "It's not good for people to stay in the same group the whole time." Now I look back and I know it's what kept me sane… just please don't make me be in a group with Special J.

And thus it was… class after class, just getting things done. A year and a half of not seeing my girls all day on Thursday, and essentially coming home to be awake for long enough to wind down and fall asleep. It was harsh, but when our whole group essentially finished off our classes for our major in February, I thought I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

At the time I thought I had 21 elective credits to finish off after 1 additional class for my major. 21 credits is 7 classes, and that was a long time… like 9 months of school. That's a long time, especially when the most interesting part—the part I actually wanted to learn about, was done. I took my last required class, in May, and turned my attention to those 7 classes.

I ran into a former classmate (who was in with me in all those classes) and he told me that he had taken some CLEP exams to get out of some classes. All I had to do was to take an hour and half test, and I wouldn't have to go to the class. My academic counselor told me I didn't have 21, but just 15 credits… only 5 classes. I could do that. If I played my cards right, I could actually finish this stuff of. She was very helpful, and this was my tentative plan for tests to take:

  • English Composition - 3 Credits
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Literature - 6 Credits
  • US History II - 3 Credits
  • Introductory Sociology - 3 Credits

15 Credits in all (previously I took a Spanish Language CLEP and got 9 credits (though I earned 12 for my score it overlapped with a class I took)) for $80/test. Instead of the $1000/class I was thrilled with the price, and the timing couldn't be better. The first two I didn't study for, and took one the day after the other… and somehow passed both (rockin'). I knew I didn't know enough about US History to shoot from the hip on that one, and the same went for Sociology. I checked out a book for each subject from the library (gotta love Cliff's notes) and read the books. Here a couple weeks ago I took and passed the US History II exam, and this afternoon I took and passed the Sociology exam. And just like that, I finished school.

Coming off of my rant about superstitions and the Spurs, I had one for these exams as well— buy a kid's size Chocolate Frosty Dairy Dessert for the receptionist at the school prior to each exam. For the 25¢ I figured it was an easy superstition, and it worked.

I walked out of the room where I was taking the test putting on a little show. I acted sad, and when she asked how I did, I sang a little Pomp & Circumstance for myself (commencement is once a year, and by next May I won't care if I walk). She was kind enough to give me a little applause, and that was that.

What's next? I'm not really sure. This plan for me to finish school after Maria finished school was laid down years ago, and that's really been all that's been on my mind. I'm sure I'll come up with something to fill my time. I always do. I've had immense support through this process though. Maria has been #1 for me, and I thank her for that. Second has been my parents, both for listening to a kid come crying to them in high school in fear that he wouldn't graduate due to poor grades, for continuing words of encouragement, and for helping in additional WAY$. Third has been additional family and friends. Although I may not know what I'm going to do next, I'm glad to check this box in my life. Thanks to each of you. :)

As a future note to myself as well as other students in the future, here are some things I think I wish I knew when I started or things that have been helpful:

  • Web 2.0 Backpack for Students - Why wasn't this written years ago? (oh yeah... web 2.0 wasn't really around, and neither were most of those apps)
  • Gmail is where it's at. Saved my butt more than once
  • Google Groups - don't lose track of what happened before, plus it's easy to manage groups in here
  • Citation Machine - I still don't like APA, but it was another hoop to jump through. No, I've never used it in the workplace. They're lying.
  • CLEP Exams - I could have gotten out of more than a year of college with these babies, as it was it was just shy of a year of school, and plenty of cash. Rockin.
  • Your company's tuition reimbursement plan - my employers kindly payed over $13,000 for my schooling. Thank you.
  • Did I mention CLEP Exams?

I think the next first step for me is to go to bed. Thanks again to everyone who supported me through this. I'm done (!), for now. ;)

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