Wonder Woman: My mom the undergrad

My mom is currently a non-traditional student pursuing a degree in social work. She didn’t have the opportunity to get a higher education until a few years ago, but growing up, she always told us that we would go to college and take advantage of the opportunities that she never had. We’re all so proud of her, but after so many years spent waiting on all of us, going to school has been a real change for her.

My mom, Sherri, in Cambodia

  • When did you start going to college?
I started college in September 2006 after the end of a twenty-five-year marriage.
  • Why did you start going to college?
I had originally thought that I wanted to become a teacher and that this was my opportunity. The real reason I started school, though, was to be an example to my children, especially my daughters. I wanted them to know that we are strong women and that we may get knocked down, but we get up and brush ourselves off. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do whatever I wanted to after losing myself in my marriage. I was forty-six at the time and I knew I didn’t want to hold a minimum wage job all my life. I wanted make my children and myself proud.
  • Why didn’t you go to college on a traditional schedule, like when you were 18?
When I was growing up I was always told that if I wanted to go to college, I would have to do it on my own. I went to my high school counselor and she seemed very disinterested in the whole process. I didn’t know where to turn or who to turn to, so I just put it on the back burner. I had a steady boyfriend at the time and my mom thought he would make a good husband. So I thought, “What the hell?” We got engaged, but one Sunday afternoon we got in a huge argument and the song In the Navy by the Village People came on as I was getting out of his truck. I told him, “That’s it! I’m joining the Navy!” He just laughed and said, “Yeah, right. I dare you.”  That Monday I talked to a recruiter, Tuesday I took the ASVAB [the Navy recruiting test] and I left Thursday morning. We broke up, but I loved the service. I met my ex-husband there and we got serious fast, so I just went the marriage route. It was convenient. Plus, when I was younger not a whole lot of “older people” (over 21) went to college.
  • What are you studying? Why?
I’m studying social work. I’m heading towards my bachelor’s degree and right into my master’s. I first went for teaching, but after I got my associate’s from a two-year college, I transferred to a four-year school. But when I walked in the first day and I looked around and saw all these young faces with dreams in their eyes, I knew that I was in the wrong place before my bottom hit the chair. I guess that as my own four children grew up I got over the need to wipe runny noses and tie wet shoe strings. I left that classroom prepared to withdraw from school altogether. I got in my car and drove around for about thirty minutes and then I called my youngest daughter and told her what I was feeling. She calmly reminded me that I had been mentioning how I wanted to work with our returning vets, so maybe I should talk to someone about studying social work. I thought, “What the hell? It won’t hurt.” I walked into the social work office and I felt like I was home. Everyone was genuine and down-to-earth. Within ninety minutes of walking out of one class, ready to drop out, I walked into a new degree and and a new life. My whole dream now is to be able to work with our returning vets and animals at the same time. I know what the unconditional love and responsibility of an animal can do for someone.
  • What’s your typical school day like? 
I pack my lunch and drinks the night before to save time in the morning because I get up around 5 because my dogs need a good forty-five minute walk. Once I get them back home, I fix myself something to eat, usually eggs and toast. I feed the dogs, let the cats out, get my clothes together, shower, blow dry my hair and get dressed. I take my school bag, lunch bag and whatever odds and ends I think I might need throughout the day. I put the dogs in the car and I take them to my mother’s house, where she dog-sits them for me. I chat with Mom for a few minutes then I drive forty-five minutes to school. I get to school in time for classes that begin between 9 and 11:45. After that, I do an hour at the gym (I’m trying to get ready for a half-marathon in April) and then my second class starts between 1 and 3:45. Then I do another hour at the gym for weight-lifting. I shower and then run to the car to grab whatever I packed the night before to eat. I go to the library and study my Arabic from Rosetta Stone for an hour or so. I have my third and final class from 6-8:45, then I drive back to my mom’s to pick up the dogs, chat for a few more minutes, then I head home. I feed the dogs and walk them for another thirty minutes (this last walk guarantees that I will not get woken up with an emergency “I gotta go” bark). I do the breakfast dishes, check my e-mail, and then crack the books for an hour or so. I am carrying eighteen credits again this semester and there seems to always be a ton of reading and writing I have to do.

Simone, my mom’s rescued pit bull 
  •  How has your life changed as a result of the decision to go back to school?
My daughter [ahem!] would not believe this, but I have become more organized out of necessity. I feel good about myself again, especially the two semesters that I made Dean’s List. I remember thinking, “I still can do it!” Of course, sometimes I have to read things two or three times to remember or for them to even make sense to me, but you do what you have to. I feel more involved in life—not only mine, but in other people’s lives, too. If anything, I am learning (emphasis on “learning”) how to listen to other people and accepting that not everyone will think or react to things the same way I do or even how I would expect them to. Going back to school has made me find me again. When you’re a wife and mother of four young children, you seem like the least important person in the mix. Then, BAM! everyone is off and on their own and there you are. Well, here I am!
  • What’s your ultimate goal for going back to school?
My ultimate goal is a personal thing. I want to prove to myself that I can fulfill a dream.  I want to be happy within myself and know that no matter what, I can do it.  I want to be support myself beyond just holding a minimum wage job. I am looking forward to the day that I can honestly help people with the necessities that they need to not only survive, but to live! I want to work with our returning veterans and therapy animals in the hope that they can help each other. I would love to get into the policy changing aspect and see why our governemnt has turned their backs on our returning vets.  
  • How do you get along with your classmates?
Actually quite well. I have had a lot of them tell me they wish their moms would go back to school and do something with their lives. We do study groups together and after tests we go out and have a drink at the local hangout. I think a lot of it has to do with the field that I am studying and the fact that it is drilled into us at almost every class that people are people. Older people are just like younger people, only with more life experience.
  • How do you feel you are different from your classmates as a non-traditional student?
Well, I have a hell of a lot more life experience. I have lived all over the world and did things that still amaze me. My writing is more in-depth than a lot of the younger people’s because of my life experiences. To sit in class and listen to how the younger students think they are going to change the whole world with just a degree leaves me shaking my head. I understand (at least I think I do) that change has to come from within and then spread out. I have a bit more responsibility than the others and I am not afraid of being considered “stupid” for asking certain questions—technology is way beyond me in so many ways. It takes me a couple of times to learn how to download things and how to store them in the computer. I also use the dictionary a lot because of all the technical talk. I decided to change to social work in my junior year and a lot of the younger students are already very familiar with the lingo that goes with the profession, so I keep a notebook close by write down the words I don’t know and then I look them up as soon as I get a chance. I also pack a lunch for myself. A lot of the kids [younger students] go through school hungry, which leads to their being tired. I make sure I always have a lunch box full of healthy foods. Eating healthy really helps me concentrate. 
  • What have you learned about yourself from this experience?
Damn, I am a strong, independent woman! I have also learned that you have two choices if negativity comes your way: you can write it in stone and carry the heavy weight around for the rest of your life or write it in sand and let the wind blow it away. I’m a good example of that. I have learned that I am smarter than I thought,  though I am still not as organized as I want to be. I like me for who I am, not what other people think I am! There used to be mornings when I would wake up and think “You are fifty-one, your life is half over. What are you trying to prove?” Now most of my mornings start with, “Shit, I am only fifty-one and there is so much more to do! I hope I can get it done!”

What are you learning from the challenges in your life? How do you keep yourself motivated? Paste your favorite motivational quotes if you have any. 


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