I Graduated, and It Feels Great
By erinbaynham on July 22, 2013
BlogHer Original Post
I attended college classes with my mom as a kid, while she was working on her BA, which she earned at the age of 38. But instead of doing it the "right" way when my turn came, I took the scenic route. After a lifetime at predominantly white schools, I received admission to the HBCU (historically black college/university) of my dreams! I was head over heels for the school -- the curriculum, the scenery, and the status. But it just wasn't in my budget, or my parents' budget either. After I shed a few tears, I withdrew my admission, and went to a local HBCU that I didn't particularly like. In fact, I hated it. My dorm room looked like a jail cell, the campus was lackluster, and I didn't really feel like I was learning much. Eager to see what it was like to attend school among my people. Maybe things would have changed with time, but I wasn't sticking around to find out. A year later, I was at a community college, because the four-year school that I attended just wasn't for me.
Attending the HBCU was a status thing, really. If I had known when I was a freshman what I know now, I would have gone straight to a community college right out of high school, then transferred out. I can only imagine the savings, the education I was receiving was exactly the same, and a bunch of my friends were attending the community college, too.
I transferred from the community college to my “dream school," a big-name university that people respect enough to give you priority in important things like job interviews. I still struggled to get through there, focusing on working at my uber-cool makeup job, flirting with boys, and chauffeuring my friends around, rather than on my studies. By 2006, I realized that I wasn’t going to be going back to that school, and I had to get my priorities in check. During the summer of 2007, I took an internship in NYC, met the coolest people, and had the time of my life. Meanwhile, all of my friends were graduating from college.
It took me three more years to return to university life. My friends playfully teased me about being a “lifetime student,” which I secretly hated, and I was beginning to feel defeated. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a job with the salary that I wanted unless I had that degree. I had to change a lot about myself to be successful. So I decided to go to yet another school. But this time, I chose the school that catered to people with full time jobs. All of my professors still worked in their profession. I felt like I was learning valuable skills that would help further my career. I really liked this school, and learned a lot.
Doing the bare minimum and getting C’s was totally okay with me until last year, when I got fed up with my attitude -- that ugly, angry, pitiful kind of fed up. My student loan interest was accruing like crazy, and I had nothing to show for it. I was determined to get out.
Luckily for me, my experience in social media scored me a job that I loved—Social Media Coordinator at National Geographic Channel. That job started on August 28, also the first day of my senior year. I conquered the demons of focus, of doubt, of being constantly overwhelmed. I had failed for so many years that I knew that I couldn't do it again. I had to work hard, and try to excel at both work and school. I took 12 credits, and managed to get a 3.0 GPA, grades that I had never achieved before.
Then it was home stretch -- my final semester. There were five months until graduation, and I was taking 15 credits. I got more responsibility at my job, working on TV shows and the Nat Geo Wild channel. For five months, I felt like I was on the brink of insanity. I had to keep my focus on the prize. I did a countdown in my planner to remind me how many weeks I had left. I hung my cap and gown on a nail on my wall so I would always see it, to remind me to just keep going.
The days and nights were long. I would get up at 6 a.m. and start my homework, or do projects on my train ride to DC. I scheduled four-hour breaks between classes so I could do homework, and make conference calls for work. I skipped classes to get to meetings. I cancelled outings with my friends and shifted my priorities. My only goal was graduating.
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