I had raced through my UC Berkeley undergraduate program at lightning speed—taking a mere nineyears to earn my bachelor’s degree. By the time I collected that hard-won diploma, I was married, working full-time, and pregnant with my first baby! My father-in-law and my husband came to see me graduate. Not much fanfare after all that time.
After I graduated, I was a stay-at-home mom for five years. But then I got restless.
I’d been doing some peer counseling with parents of babies with heart defects in the NICU at UCSF, but knew I should get some formal training. I figured I could whip through a two-year Master’s program in four years, tops. Two kids by then, a busy life, grad school—how hard could it be?
It felt good to say I was applying to graduate school when the inevitable question (“what do you do?”) came up. I got defensive about being a stay-at-home mom. It was 1982—most of the women I knew had jobs and business cards. But I could wrestle two kids into car seats and get myself dressed every day, and I made a mean grilled cheese. Ask me anything about Sesame Street. Go me!
After I decided to apply to school, the first hurdle was The Test. I sidestepped the GRE and took the Miller Analogies Test. I thought it would be a piece of cake, but those things were hard—and they got harder. Who knew? A is to B as B is to… WTF? But I got a good enough score, and entered the Master’s program in clinical counseling at the local State University.
I would’ve graduated in four years too, except for one little thing: my third child, who appeared in June of 1986. What lengths I went through to avoid writing my thesis!
However, I finally finished—and graduated in 1988. The thing I remember most about my graduation day? Stepping out of the procession to race to the bathroom, running back to find my place in line, and ending up being the first person to walk across the stage. Much applause and woo-hoo-ing for me: first in my class!
|First in my class…to walk across the stage|
Fast forward a few years and a career change. I left hospitals behind for high school.
After 15 years of working with seniors as a college counselor, I’d reached a crossroads: I could keep doing what I was doing and wonder what it would’ve been like to live a writer’s life—or I could take the plunge and live that life.
So I took a deep breath and applied to local MFA programs in creative writing. All those years of going over student essays with a sharp eye and a sharpened pencil gave me a perspective I didn’t have when I’d applied to grad school the first time, nearly twenty five years before.
The two-year program devoted to writing was a hard-won gift to myself (and from my husband, who thought he was done paying for college), and a chance to put my resolve to the test. Would I be open to criticism of my writing by a group of people I didn’t know? Would I have something to offer the other writers? Would I be able to stay awake in class and get the reading done on time? I was way out of practice.
I started the program with excitement and trepidation. I ditched my “going to work” wardrobe and settled into a jeans and t-shirts routine. I let my hair grow to long-ago lengths, and noticed what the other “girls” were wearing. It was challenging and fun to sit around and talk about writing for hours in workshop and craft classes. I took the critiques of my classmates to heart, and enjoyed offering my feedback—both in class and in the margins.
For the first time in my academic career, I was neither working nor raising kids (or having a baby mid-way through). Maybe it’s no coincidence that I finished on time.
At my graduation in 2011, I had the biggest rooting section ever: family and friends cheered, sat through boring speeches, and toasted me with bubbly at the end. I wore the gown, the hood and the silly hat, crossed my tassel from left to right, and celebrated the beginning of a new chapter.