For the past eight months I’ve been working as a tutor for middle and high school students in a program aimed at improving study and organizational habits to prepare for college. A few weeks ago I walked into the 9th grade classroom to find an essay topic written on the board.
What is your drive or motivation for going to college?
I smiled a confident grin, borrowed a piece of paper from the student next to me, and pulled up a chair. This question was easy! In my teens I wanted to go to college to get a good education which would, of course, lead to a good job. “College opens doors!” That is what I heard, and so that is what I said. Fast-forward twenty years to the 9th graders giving the exact same answer. That’s when it hit me: the question I needed to focus on was not what motivated me to go to college all those years ago, but rather why I had worked so hard in recent years to finish.
The more I reflected on the last five years, the more surprises I found. My motivation had grown from standard to spectacular. I started college to get a good job; that part hadn’t changed. I finished college to set an example for my children and also for the students I work with. How could I stress to them the importance of education if I had neglected to reach for it myself? I kept working on my degree because every time I learned something new I felt like a kid again. Our capacity to grow does not decrease because we age; we age because we forget our innate capacity to grow. Every class I took gave me new perspectives and I could feel myself becoming more open and understanding. When I initially returned to college I had difficulties juggling my everyday life with finding time to study. But soon enough those difficulties began to rouse instead of discourage. When a non-traditional student encounters an obstacle we work through it because we have to. Hitting the pause button on our jobs, our families, and our homes is not an option. As we weave learning into life we become even more resourceful. I finished because I realized that graduating was truly the only way to honor all the time, effort, and hard work I had already put in.
My answer to the question is simple: the reason we start college is important regardless of what age we are, but just as important are the things we learn about ourselves as we work to finish. Take a second every now and then during this whirlwind to think about how both you and your motivations might have changed. Keeping your determination up to date will help push you through to the end. I’m standing here about to graduate with an obscene amount of excitement that can only come from experiencing something this challenging and comprehensive. So finish strong, my fellow non-trads. I can tell you with great pride and certainty that you will be so very glad you did.