Snow greeted the students returning to Utah State University on Jan. 6. Watching them trudge to class, I was reminded of my recent return to school.
I had heard it was more challenging to return to school as an adult. Child care, work schedules and more complex life situations are some of the hurdles that keep people from finishing college or returning to further their education. I did not understand it until I had a chance to try it personally.
Since I had recently begun writing a personal column as community columnist for HJNews, I had felt the need to qualify myself as a journalist. So, I signed up to audit the Beginning Newswriting class at Utah State last fall. I loved college as an undergrad and did very well. I thought coming back would be just like old times. But with the first day of class, reality came chugging by and caught me off guard. If it hadn’t been for the blasted train, at least I would have been on time.
I woke up at 6 o’clock that morning: admission paper ready to sign, computer for notes, and looking presentable in my new semi-professional outfit. After all, I was supposed to be a semi-professional adult, so showing up in tennis shoes and jeans like the “kids” would be tacky.
I knew I had to be to the bus stop by 8:45 to make it to class on time. I had to process my household in order to make the attempt.
At 7 a.m. I woke the children. All five. Normally, the three-year-old got to sleep in. But that day, I had to help him and the four bigger ones get ready early. Lunches had to be packed, backpacks reacquired, homework double checked, medications administered, since I would not be at home to save anyone who may have forgotten what they needed for the day.
My husband hustled the early-morning orchestra kid out the door at 7:25. That left me with just four. No problem.
I left three of them at school at 8:20. That was cutting it close, but I had timed my route. It only took me 12 minutes to get to my in-laws, where I would be leaving my toddler during classes. I should have time to get to that 8:45 bus.
Despite my preparation and timing, I had misjudged one thing. The train.
In the four years I have lived here, I had only seen two trains crossing at 2500 North. But at 8:22 a.m., the longest freight train I had ever seen on the tracks stopped the traffic and me with it. Eight minutes later, it was gone. Eight precious minutes.
Once the toddler drop-off was complete, I had exactly four minutes to get to the bus stop. It took me seven. I arrived at the terminal at 8:48 a.m.
The semi-professional shoes which seemed so important at 6 a.m. were not fit for a hike up Old Main. I waited.
Finally, the 9 a.m. bus came. I disembarked at 9:07 on the USU campus and got lost three times. At 9:14 a.m., I came to a computer lab outside a small, tightly packed, glass-enclosed classroom where the professor was heartily lecturing his students with a sneer on his face and lightening in his eyes. A man with a reputation for toughness, he was doing his best to terrify his students into dropping out early if they weren’t prepared to suffer. And learn.
I hesitated. I would never be able to sneak in the back unnoticed. But I had come so far I wasn’t about to leave now. I stepped into the computer lab.
The staffer at the desk shook his head. “You probably shouldn’t go in there,” he warned. “Somebody else went in late and he really gave them a hard time.”
My stomach churned.
Could I possibly not attend when I had gone to such lengths to get there? The planning and kid juggling had been a nightmare. The trip to class that morning, a defeat.
Approaching the door cautiously, I sat in a chair where I could see the professor glaring icily over his coffee cup. I listened for several minutes outside the class before an outsider cracked the door to put up the new class schedule. Using their interruption, I slid into the class. Unnoticed? Hardly.
“You’re already failing this class,” the professor mumbled into his coffee.
Man, did I know it.
Head down, I listened to the threat and promise: He would make us work harder than we had ever worked in a class. And if we did, we would learn more than we had ever learned in such a short time.
That is why I came. To learn.
The class was everything he promised — painfully difficult and extremely educational. By the time we had gone a semester, the professor and I were friends. From him and that experience, I learned a great deal about many things beyond journalism.
I learned that college is not the same as it used to be. It’s faster paced and more demanding than I remember — accelerated by technology in every respect. I learned how challenging it is for a non-traditional student to complete a single course, let alone a degree. I learned that education for the sake of self-improvement is difficult, but an excellent use of time.
I also learned that learning doesn’t ever have to stop. Come rain, or sunshine, or snow, those who are brave enough will trudge on. And in the end, they will succeed.
Kate E Anderson is a mother of five living in North Logan. She can be reached at email@example.com