The Voice: Spring 2003

The Voice

Plumbline: A non-traditional student answers: Why am I here?

By: Kathy Harmelink

Do you have all your homework put together? How about your PE uniform? Did you remember to put that in your bag, Jordan? Did you ask what kind of calculator you need for math? Who is driving tomorrow, Josh?” I shoot out questions at my three sons, not even waiting for their replies.

It is a school night and after only a few weeks of school, we are still trying to get our evening routine together to avoid, or at least attempt to avoid, chaotic morning rushes. I check on each boy to make sure they are ready for the next day.

Jordan asks with a grin, “How about you Mom? Do you need a PE uniform?”

He just loves this chance to turn the tables on me, I can tell. Tomorrow, after almost fifteen years of being out of the classroom, I am heading back to college. I am a non-traditional part-time college student set on completing the degree I let go fifteen years ago to be home with my then growing family.    

The next morning finds me sitting in the back corner of a classroom. Students stroll into the classroom in groups, chatting with their friends, waving or yelling greetings to someone they haven’t seen over the summer and selecting their seats. Most ignore me, but a few nod “hello” and quickly resume talking to the other students around them. Looking around, I see kids only a few years older than my son and suddenly feel like an alien in a very strange land.

What in the world was I thinking? I’m too old to do this. I am almost old enough to be these kids’ mother. College is for the young, not for old ladies like me.

I don’t notice the professor walk into the class until everyone takes a seat and only one person remains standing in the front. Now I know that I don’t belong here. The professor looks to be no older than the students. Dressed in blue jeans and sandals, he is not like any professor I remember from fifteen years ago.

Class begins and the professor hands out a syllabus for the course. As I glance over the calendar for the class, I see several research papers, tests and a group project that will all have to be completed during the semester. Panic strikes as I frantically try to recall how to go about doing research for a college-level paper. The syllabus mentions something called Lexis and Ebsco for source material. The only Lexis I know is a car. No, that is a Lexus. I have no idea what Ebsco is. I am definitely in trouble here.

The professor distributes a stack of note cards.

“Write your name, major, where you are from, and why you are in this class on one of the cards,” he instructs us.

OK, this I can handle. My name—I think I remember how to write that. My major—yep, I can do that too. I’m from Sioux Center—got that. Why I am in this class. Hmmm, good question.

It’s obvious by looking around that this class is not the normal next step in my life. I am just about old enough to be my classmates’ mother. I haven’t taken a test or written a research paper in over fifteen years. I have no idea what Lexis and Ebsco are. After years of wiping noses, taking care of a household, and working a few different part-time jobs, why am I now adding a college class to my already busy life?

I know that getting a college degree will help my job options. I have always finished things that I have started and with my kids in school full-time, I can take the time to finish my degree now. Those are two good reasons for being in this classroom. But neither fully answers the question of why I am here.

My son, who is in first grade, came home from school all excited yesterday.

I met him at the door, “Hi! How was school?”

“Neat. Did you know that if you rub a balloon over your hair, your hair will stick out? We learned that today.”

His shining eyes and wide grin told me that for him, school had been fun that day. He was excited about what he had learned.

That is why I am sitting in this class. I want to rub a balloon over my hair and be amazed when my hair sticks out. I want the excitement, joy and challenge of learning something new. I want to learn something today that I didn’t know yesterday. I want to think about something that I never thought about before. I want to talk about things, stretch my mind and learn.

I’m not a typical college student. I am older, hopefully a little wiser and I know exactly why I am here.    

I write two more words on the card—To learn.