College is a learning experience, but the education garnered is certainly not all obtained in the classroom. It took a while to get my feet under me, even longer before I got comfortable with the surroundings, people, and even attitudes. Being a non-trad student put me in a unique position, and I eventually did come to understand and appreciate that.
I could automatically relate to my fellow students, we were all in the same boat. But, that also meant I saw and dealt with my children differently, as they did with me. When they came to me with problems about school, I found that I spoke with a new and different awareness of the dynamics involved. And they took advantage of the reality that I was learning skills that a lot of other parents didn’t own. Their Mom could help them get a higher grade just by asking a few simple questions and pointing out grammatical errors in sentence structure. But, she could also see through excuses about why assignments had not been completed.
Because I was closer in age to my instructors, I found a definite ease in communicating with them, and several became supportive friends in relationships that lasted even after I graduated. But, that also meant that I saw the seamier side to some of the political shenanigans that went on in the background on any campus. More important than anything I may have come to know there, I learned how to stay open and to preserve my own mental freedom.
I got involved. I was offered the opportunity to tutor what were called “At Risk Classes” in the History Department. They were lower level courses required for the major in that department. Many students couldn’t see the value in taking a semester of German History, when they were far more interested in the story of Latin American study. It was my job to help them develop study habits they had not obtained in high school, while helping them see the relationship between diverse fields of interest. I actually tutored one semester, while taking the course, myself, for credit. That was against the rules, but the rules get bent often. There was a compromise arrived at, I didn’t get paid for that one.
I joined the History Club, a peer support group for non-trad students, and eventually volunteered to work at the Women’s Center, newly established on the campus. I had worked at a Women’s Shelter the summer before, between Spring and Fall semesters, and because of my own experience, found it easy to relate to many of the battered women who came there to just talk and find more appropriate solutions. In other words, I was a volunteer advocate and counselor.
Through the English Department, I got to meet a few of my poet idols: Lucille Clifton, Robert Bly, Gwendolyn Brooks, and William Stafford. Some of them came to speak on campus. Others were the result of fun road trips, where I invited a few friends and offered to drive them, in my vehicle, getting lost in Chicago at one point. I was definitely learning to find my own way and to trust my own instincts.
Part of a college education is to acquire a more rounded base of knowledge. To that end, there were required courses in all disciplines. Although I was interested in Psychology, after taking two semesters of it, I realized that much of what I was learning was simple common sense. I took a semester of Philosophy because it too was required. I knew I would never be a philosopher because their books were chock full of run on sentences that became paragraphs, and even whole pages and more. One of the professors in that department however, was also a Methodist Minister.
He offered a class, on occasion, titled The Bible as History and Literature. I went and talked to him, told him I’d never be a philosophy major, but had taught Adult Bible Study before coming to college and my interests were in both of those subjects. He encouraged me to take the class and I did. Afterward, I asked him if I could do an Independent Study with him because I wanted to write about the image of women as defined in the Bible and carried throughout history because of that. He agreed.
I actually wrote about thirty pages for that undertaking and knew I could probably do triple that or more with the wealth of information I found. The man had told me that he would place no boundaries on me, that he was simply curious about what I would do and had no desire to impose any limits on me.
At the end of the semester, after turning in the paper, I didn’t hear from him and got a bit worried. So I called and asked him about the paper. He said, “Oh, Elizabeth, you definitely got an A, but I’ve hung onto the paper. While reading it, I read some of it to my wife, and she wants to know if you would mind if she shared it with her book discussion group next month.” Oh my! I agreed, and later enjoyed the comments he made on those pages.
Unknown to me, that same professor had met and made friends with my former pastor at a Presbyterian church I had attended before the end of my marriage. The same pastor who had encouraged me to teach that adult Bible study group. Apparently, they had discussed my person and how I was doing now that I was a full-time student.
At one point, Professor Johnson approached me and asked if we could discuss something important. He told me about meeting and getting to know Mark, my former pastor and that they had discussed some very interesting ideas about my future after college. Then he totally blind-sided me by asking if I would consider applying for and going to Seminary once I had my degree.
I was speechless, so many thoughts running through my head, all going off in different directions. He waited patiently for me to take the idea in, and when I spoke, although I was trying to be light about all of it, my words surprised even me.
“Look at me, seriously, ” I said, “I’m a middle-aged woman who never intends to wear a skirt again for the rest of her existence. Good Lord, I’d corrupt all the clean-cut Colgate kids from Kansas within two weeks, and get kicked out before the end of the first semester!”
He leaned back and smiled, as he softly said, “Well, actually, that’s exactly what Mark and I had in mind, not the kicking out part, but the spirit you could bring to all of them.”
(to be continued…)