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Finishing What I Started

I was 28 years old when I began college studies. The economy was bad, I had been married nine years, had two young daughters, ages 7 and 4-1/2, and had come to the realization that I needed—not just wanted—to go to college.

To get financial aid I had to take 12 credit hours per semester. My husband said, “As long as you can take care of all of your other responsibilities, I don’t care.”

At age 33, the economy devastated (Uncle Sam called it a recession but in our area we spelled it d-e-p-r-e-s-s-i-o-n.) My husband was laid off from his job, we had no health insurance benefits, and I learned that I was pregnant with twins. Complications prompted the doctor to put me on complete bed rest until the babies were born. I was forced to withdraw from classes, but I promised myself I would go back and finish the degree…someday.

As it happened, I fell into an unexpected journalism career without benefit of a journalism degree, working from reporter/photographer to editor and eventually producing a weekly newspaper of my very own. While I was editor, though, I thought my publisher boss would welcome my decision to complete my bachelor’s degree in the late 1990s. Not so.

“Go ahead,” he snarled. “Your responsibilities around here are going to change.”

“Oh? They are?” I asked. “Would you care to elaborate on that?”


With four children at home, I was forced not to return to school. (I would handle it differently if it happened again.) Several times since I have looked into it: 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006…2007.

In early August 2007 I took my daughter to her college to get everything pinned down for her to move to the main campus.

“What will happen to her financial aid if I decline mine?” I asked. “I am not getting enough aid to take classes.”

“Let’s take a look. What’s your sosh?” (Social Security Number.) She took one look and insisted that I talk to my financial aid advisor.

“Is he here?”

“Yes. Take a seat. He’ll call you when he’s free.”

The short version: the financial aid is there. What do I want to do with it?

I had considered a general studies degree so I could move on to a master’s in creative writing. But I reconsidered a couple of things.

Mr. James, my eighth grade guidance counselor had advised my mother that I should write or teach English. How could I have forgotten about that? Me, the voracious reader who couldn’t get enough books and teachers had accused (to my mother) that I was hiding behind books to escape reality? The observer who absorbed everything like a sponge?

If I’m going back to finish my bachelor’s degree, it should be in English. If it takes longer than a year, so be it. My concern is 14 hours of a foreign language. I have eight hours of Spanish—taken 20-plus years ago and have used it little since.

Yes. It will take me longer than a year, but under the direction of my advisor, Patti Capel Swartz, Ph.D., I will make it. I’m not just going to get that BA in English. I also have applied for enrollment in the Honors College.

There is a nervous knot in my stomach. At long last, after 21 years, I am going back to college to complete my bachelor’s degree.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Cathy Brownfield. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Cathy Brownfield. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Debora Dyess for details.

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