Posts tagged ‘life experience college’

Oh, Yes They Can!

by Joan Maynor, Ed.D.

I developed an affinity for nontraditional students first as a student and later as a college teacher. However, my fondest recollections occurred during my college years.

In my freshman year, I befriended two nontraditional students with whom I developed a lasting relationship beyond our college years. I was 18, Gloria was 38, and Elizabeth was 45. Although I was friends with each woman, they were only casual acquaintances to each other. Neither had attended college previously. College was a new experience. Gloria was a baker at a local bakery, and Elizabeth was a nurse’s aide at Memorial Medical Center. Both were in search of better job opportunities. Gloria was married with no children. She had the financial and moral support of her husband, a music teacher. Therefore, she could work reduced hours to attend college. Elizabeth was divorced with two minor children and five adult children, one of whom was also enrolled in our college freshman class. With no spousal support, she had to work full time, 11:00 pm to 7:00 am, five days per week.

Both of my friends attended college full time. I was in awe of them—how they managed their time and balanced school work and family time. I listened attentively to their stories of having worked several jobs with no career paths , their financial struggles, and their greatest fear—not assimilating in college. They thought they would be viewed as anachronisms. Gloria and Elizabeth were so caring and protective of me that I could not fathom why they could be so apprehensive about not fitting in. Gloria made sure I ate properly (she was convinced that I was developing an eating disorder because I would immerse myself so much in my studies that I frequently neglected to eat). Both Gloria and Elizabeth lectured me about “the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees.” They were my drum majors, rooting for me and taking pride in my academic honors and achievements.

Each of my friends contributed to our relationship. I helped Gloria with German and freshman composition. And she used her creativity to help me to design my projects—she was meticulous about presentation. Being a baker and self-taught seamstress, she had an eye for details. I helped Elizabeth with her research papers, and she, in return, typed her papers and mine. I lacked good keyboarding skills, and we had no Dell, Gateway, or Apple computers to make typing easy as it is today.

We three entered Savannah State in September 1968, and we each graduated in June 1972, exactly four years later. I graduated summa cum laude, and each of my friends graduated cum laude. In fact, Elizabeth’s grades exceeded those of her daughter, who also graduated along with us. Though I was the top graduating honoree, I was more impressed by my friends’ achievements. After all, I was a traditional student with parents and a scholarship to support my needs. While my friends had some limited financial aid, they had to incur a large portion of their college expenses. While I had the luxury to be self-indulging, they had to do a daring balancing act to make college work, and they did.

Both of my friends became fine elementary school teachers and I, a college professor of English. Gloria taught until her untimely death, and Elizabeth until she retired. Elizabeth and I are still friends. The age divide does not seem as great now that I am a grandmother and she a great-grandmother. Whenever we meet by chance, we always fondly recall our college days. She tells me I was the smartest young lady on campus, and I tell her that she was the most determined and focused student on campus.

Gloria and Elizabeth came to college with a wealth of life experiences and life skills that proved to be great assets. Perhaps their greatest asset was their people skills. They had learned how to network to maximize success. I adopted their networking skills and took them with me to graduate school. Whenever I would work in a group, I would contribute my strong writing skills, while someone would bring the “techy skills” to the group, and someone else, the time to gather the resources in the library. There were no web sources or online libraries available.

Because nontraditional students have varied life experiences and life skills, they can positively impact younger students. “Odd couples” can forge life-time relationships. Nontraditional students can weather obstacles to attending college. “Oh, yes, they can.”