Succeeding After Time Away – Jenni Beles, Online Contributor
My return to college life came twenty-five years after I had received my diploma from Zion Bible Institute back in 1983, the Dark Ages, according to my son. As I think on my own journey to my recent 2016 graduation ceremony, I would like to share a little advice that I might give to someone who is thinking of returning to college after many years away.
Going back to college after many years away will call for steadfastness. There are days the hurdles seem insurmountable—times when there is lack of finances at the time of class registration, the car breaks down as you are running late for class, your daughter lets you know that she needs help with her project, your spouse is out of town on business and true story, your puppy really does eat your homework that is due in thirty minutes. There will be sacrifices that will be made; family finances will be impacted, moments to enjoy hobbies will be scarce and time with beloved family and friends will be limited. Your own dream may be realized (like mine) a class at a time, over many semesters. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? The good news and promise can be found in Philippians 1:6 (NIV), “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Don’t give up!
Having a support system is a necessity while attending college at any age. Having support people to encourage and pray with you, to make a meal for your family or pick up children from school when you are in the middle of writing an important paper, is invaluable. I was blessed with the support of professors who invested in my life. Professors who were patient with my numerous questions, pushed me out of my comfort zone at times and went above and beyond their “job description”. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I am so grateful for the people—family, friends and professors who have been part of my life these last few years.
A sense of humor and finding joy in the journey is essential for the “mature” college student. My return to college life started with my enrollment at a local community college about eight years ago. My first class? Music Appreciation. I was fine until I had to write a paper. Yes it is humbling and humorous when I had to ask my high schooler how to create footnotes. He certainly seemed to find it humorous. I felt compelled to speed up the process a decided to enroll in two—yes two-summer independent study classes. Do you know this means that you actually have half the time to complete the work? By yourself? I laugh thinking about how I thought I was superwomen for a brief eight weeks. Finally, after several independent classes, I felt brave enough to enroll in a more traditional classroom setting. I had not entered an actual classroom, other than for my children, for over 25 years. I was nervous (I had thoughts that I would be the oldest person in the class) and I was running late after trying to fight a couple of 18 –year olds for a parking spot. When I entered the classroom right at the time class was to start, I recall hearing the scrape of a few chairs, shuffling of papers and a quiet seemed to settle in the room. As I was trying to squeeze into one of the typical chair/desk combos that are really designed for teens, I realized the rest of the class thought I was the professor! Surprise! The actual professor quickly followed my entry, and yes, he was younger than me! Embrace the humor and humility that sometimes go hand in hand when going back to college.
A quote that I find inspiring was penned by C. S. Lewis and says, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” I have a well-worn copy of his words tucked in my Bible, in part because I think it works well with a verse I memorized so many years ago. Paul instructs us in II Timothy 2:15 to, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” There are no age restrictions in learning and pursuing knowledge. My online classes at Northpoint these past two years have been enriching and rewarding. Returning back to college academics has renewed my purpose and passion in serving Christ and fulfilled a dream I held for over thirty years. I encourage everyone to always keep learning and searching to become the workman that God desires. Now, I wonder, should I pursue a Masters? Hmmm, that chapter is yet to unfold with prayerful consideration and contemplation!