From Where I Sit – Back to School

Last November after too many years of considering and then dismissing the notion, I enrolled in university. Not full-time, not in person.

I chose the only alternative that made sense for me at this particular age and stage of my life. I chose distance learning through Athabasca University, Canada’s Open University.

When my box of textbooks, novels, short story collection and study guides arrived through Canada Post, I was alternately giddy with excitement and terrified with apprehension.

I was excited at the prospect of continuing my commitment to lifelong learning. I was thrilled at being “forced” to study some of the classics: Dickens’ Great Expectations, Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, for this intro English course. Learning to read critically and write comparison/contrast essays would only improve my own writing and enjoyment of reading, I reasoned.

Yet I was also terrified at the possibility of failure. Was waiting a full 29 (!) years after graduation from college a smart thing? What if this 48 year-old brain couldn’t hack it? What if I’d forgotten everything I’d ever known? What if my powers of retention were shot? What if I didn’t finish the course and had to add another skeleton to my “unfinished” closet? I’d made public—through my newspaper column—my intentions, so my credibility and ‘stick-to-itiveness’ were on the line. Would the $500 tuition and text fees be wasted?

By April I’d successfully completed English 211 with, according to my tutor, a higher than average final mark of 81% and a full month short of the six month deadline. As Roy and the kids congratulated me, I couldn’t help but remember the countless times I’d admonished the kids to do better. No doubt I too could have done better—but at what cost?

As it was, it took a heaping dose of determination to squeeze a university course into an already full life. It took discipline to say no to the seductive pull of the TV or the invitations of friends. It took resolve to invent some effective study habits that could work for a part-time, ‘mature’ student. Taking the time to fully answer the self-review questions helped tremendously with the three-hour final exam. In hindsight, I didn’t take full advantage of my tutor, an enthusiastic, supportive resource.

This was such a gratifying experience that I quickly registered for another course. English 212 Plays and Poetry will be a much bigger stretch for me. I’m not sure I ‘got’ iambic pentameter and Shakespeare when I was in my prime, never mind decades later! I’m also not sure a May first start date was so smart. Somehow I’d pictured myself in a comfy backyard chaise lounge, in the shade of my maturing trees, with a drink in one hand and Othello in the other. I must have forgotten all the cleanup and yard work that farm life entails.

I was falling behind in the suggested work schedule but then did some marathon reading, called my new tutor to de-mystify some of the things that were bogging me down and got my first assignment in.

Despite the busyness of the season and the lure of countless distractions, I’ve got to stay on task. At my current rate of two courses (or six credits) per year, it will take TWENTY YEARS to get my Bachelor of Arts degree! I’m counting on getting some transfer credits from my Grant MacEwan College diploma to shave a few years (and dollars) of my great adventure.

The lesson, dear reader, is to follow-up when the urge to do something first hits you. Right now I’m haunted by visions of needing a walker and an oxygen tank for my convocation at age 70. Funny? I think not. Make your own plans this year for going back to school. It’s the smart thing to do from where I sit.

* Originally published in Farmlife

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