Worth a second chance

Being a non-traditional student is not for wimps.

There is nothing quite as humbling as returning to school after age 50.

I clutched my crumpled campus map in my sweaty palms and approached a young man. “Can you tell me where the Lucas Administrative Building is?” I asked.

“Oh, are you here to see your kid or something?” he questioned.

“Well, no, I’m here to take an entrance exam,” I answered, cowering a little.

“Oh, wow, that’s really cool,” he said, and he proceeded to give me directions.

I couldn’t help but pick up on the fact that he was looking at me as if I had just landed my space ship, climbed out, looked at him with three eyes and demanded, “Take me to your leader.”

I’ve been a non-traditional student at Northern Kentucky University pursuing a degree in journalism since 2002. I started by taking a class on my lunch hour and I’m very grateful for Northern’s Grant County campus in Williamstown.

I was thrilled when I caught on that we were distinguished with a trendy sounding name, non-trads. According to the university’s admissions department, non-traditional students are adult learners 23 years of age or older, and their enrollment is on the rise. In fact, adult learner/non-traditional students make up 40 percent of NKU’s total enrollment. Some are just upgrading their skills, while others are making career moves, others just do it for personal development and fulfillment.

For some of us, when we graduated from high school, we couldn’t stand the thought of another day in school. For others, finances or family obligations made it impossible. Whatever the reason, the desire to get a college degree just wouldn’t let go.

But I’ll be the first to say it isn’t easy. At the main campus, I’ve certainly been out of my comfort zone. I found it a great challenge just to tuck my matronly body into the one-size-fits-all school desk. I was embarrassed when the professor called me “Mrs.” Lawrence and panic-stricken when I thought LA103 was Lucas Administrative Building-only to find that room 103 was the furnace room in that building-LA stood for Landrum Academic building instead.

Even so, there have been successes and that keep me going. In ENG 101, I learned how to unlock my creativity by free writing. I’ve learned how to organize my thoughts, think critically and write an intelligent argument.

In ENG 200, I was introduced to Flannery O’Conner and Mary Wilkins; I was blown away by “Revelation” and “The Revolt of Mother.”

I was inspired when I read “River of Earth” by James Still. I knew these people: Mother, Father, Euly, Uncle Samp and Uncle Jolly. They were just like the people that I grew up knowing and hearing about in my West Virginia family.

If you are one of the fortunate ones who went straight from high school to college, value the experience, hang in there and don’t quit. The non-traditional student sitting next to you probably won’t be going to homecoming. In fact, before they came to school, they probably: planned a week’s menus, did the laundry, took out the trash, helped with homework, took two kids to school and dropped another off at daycare. Yes, cherish your carefree college days with friends in the dorm. College as a non-trad is good, but it’s just not the same.

I’ve been encouraged by my professors, younger student peers and occasionally, (yes occasionally), that more mature looking face in the classroom. We exchange knowing glances and I feel like I’ve just gotten that much needed-“You go girl.”