I gazed down at the off white 11×14 inch slip of paper with amazement. It had a slight texture to it with an indented seal of approval at the bottom center. In black Old English font, my name looked official and professional. In the past, I had bought resume paper, cardstock, and various other paper products, but at a whopping $23,000, this was far and away the most expensive piece of paper I had ever bought. A proud smirk came across my face. I closed my eyes and breathed a sigh of relief; I had finally accomplished a goal I thought that I had given up on years ago.
When I graduated high school back in 2007, I did what any high school student thought he should do: enroll in college. That fall I enrolled in Paralegal Studies at Pennsylvania College of Technology (an affiliate of Penn State University) with the intention of moving on to law school. I had no true idea as to what I wanted to do with my life, all I knew was that I wanted to make money and I was argumentative, so becoming a lawyer seemed like a good fit at the time.
For the entirety of the 2 years, I had spent at Pennsylvania College of Technology I was a slacker. I barely showed up to classes and when I did I was merely there in the physical sense whilst my mind wandered to other places more exciting than a packed classroom.
Homework was an optional chore for me and studying was for the weak-minded; minds like me waited until the last minute to cram whilst continuing on with our unhealthy love affair with Red Bull and cigarettes. The result was me skimming by with a C average, but I was passing and that’s all that mattered, right?
I had a professor that thought otherwise.
Professor Andrews (not his real name) was everything a young freshman feared college would be like, basing such beliefs off of the seemingly infinite catalog Hollywood had to offer. He was an older gentleman with balding white hair. He had a stern grumpy old man way about him, which as I came to find out was built on the foundations of serving in the United States Navy as a JAG officer and subsequently on the bench as a Federal Judge. This man saw straight through my bullshit and had no problem calling me out on it. On more than one occasion he humored himself at my expense by making me the center of attention in class. I was the only man in a 30 plus person classroom, so I pretty much had a bullseye painted on my forehead.
Suffice to say, I hated this man. He made sure that every class I had with him was a living hell. I was passing the tests and getting by with an average GPA, what did he care about me? He even pulled me aside after class one time for a quick little chat. “When are you going to put some effort into your studies,” I still remember him asking me with vivid clarity. I seem to remember my answer being something along the lines of, “I’m passing your class, so what’s the problem.
That was a mistake.
“And just passing is good enough?” he yelled at me so loud his voice cracked. “You don’t do your homework and you barely come to class! You’re a smart guy, but you’re lazy! You need to buckle down!”
I promptly dismissed myself and brushed off what he said like it was a pesky piece of lint on my coat. Little did I know, it was a warning of coming events…
I ended up getting a girl pregnant and dropped out of school. I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew that the answer wasn’t in college. As the years progressed and my daughter grew older, the only person that I could imagine going to school was my daughter. My friends and family, of course, would put the bug of school in my ear from time to time. I did entertain the possibility on a few occasions. I was even just a few signatures away from enrolling back at Pennsylvania College of Technology for their robotics program; I was apparently planning on becoming the next Iron Man. I certainly had the sarcastic personality for the role.
Unfortunately, I was at a job where I felt trapped, working 55 hours a week just to scrape by. Obtaining a college degree seemed like a pipe dream at this point and I wasn’t built to travel down those pipes like Super Mario.
Then a small and humble miracle happened.
During a chance encounter, I talked to a man in the IT department about some recent computer issues in the warehouse where I worked. It was brief and uneventful to me, but he apparently was mildly impressed with the home-brewed knowledge I possessed about computers. Later that day he stopped by in the warehouse where I worked and suggested that I put in for the open Technical Product Support position. I immediately updated my resume, applied for the position and got the promotion. I was no longer a warehouse grunt, I was a big boy with a desk, a cubicle, and a nameplate.
My supervisor was a man of seemingly infinite computer and office software knowledge. I learned more from him in my first three months than I had my entire professional life elsewhere. He once again placed the college bug in my ear to further my career and this time it stuck.
The day was March 10, 2018. I had just turned 30 and like clockwork, I was hit square in the face with a mid-life crisis. I immediately submitted an application to McCann School of Business & Technology which was in the neighboring town to mine. It was a further drive than Pennsylvania College of Technology, but I was told that it catered to the non-traditional student and I was as non-traditional as they came.
I still remember my first time touring the facility. I was filled with joy and amazement. It was a much more humble campus than others, but it was still a post-secondary education school and had everything I needed: a computer lab, decent sized classrooms, projectors, clean white walls, a career center, and a slick green and navy blue color scheme. I was officially going to be a college student again, only this time there would be no time for slacking.
After much deliberation, I enrolled in Business Administration instead of IT because I was more interested in the business side of the company I worked for and figured that I could teach myself the IT fundamentals and earn certificates later on in my spare time. Spare time was a word that wouldn’t enter my vocabulary for another 18 months. During my time at McCann, I was still working anywhere from 45 to 50 hours a week at my job. My weekly schedule consisted of waking up at 5 am to be to work by 6, working until 4:30 pm and driving 40 minutes to attend my night classes which ran from 5-9:30, and then getting home just in time for bed only to wake up and do it all over again. Suffice to say, I was burning the candle at both ends.
Professor Andrews’ words to me were still fresh in my mind. 400 minutes in the car a week with only my own mind for company gave me plenty of time to reflect on the warning he heeded 12 years ago. There were days when I just wanted to give up. It would have been so easy to drop-out or skip a few classes, not do the homework assignments or write my essays, but I kept at it and believe me, I was burnt out. My Accounting, Business Finance, and Economics classes were especially taxing (pun totally intended). In the end, I discovered that I had developed a work ethic and time management skills I didn’t even know I had. My experience transcended book learning; I learned more about who I was as a person and that’s something no text book can teach.
On September 8, 2019, I graduated summa cum laude with an Associate’s of Specialized Business degree in Business Administration. My graduation ceremony was held on January 17 where I overcame my stage fright and walked across that stage. There was something deeply profound about attending my ceremony that I can’t quite put into words. It was like a small chapter in my life 12 years’ in the making was finally complete and I was ready to begin the next.
My degree is proudly framed on my wall. Some may think that an associate’s degree from a small business school isn’t much to be proud of, but it was honest hard work. I pushed myself beyond my limitations and found a new me; a me that was stronger and more resilient than ever before. I have every intention of enrolling for my bachelor’s degree where I expect the difficulty to be 2 fold, but I’m up for the challenge. To Professor Andrews, wherever you are, I’m not a slacker anymore.