Friday, August 6, 2010

Let's Hear it for My Wife

My wife is finally a college graduate, twice. Just yesterday she finished her undergraduate studies and has earned her BS in Social Work. A month ago she received a diploma in the mail from her last college, who decided two years later that she had indeed earned her associates degree. So that's two degree in the span of a few months.

Over a decade ago she graduated with honors from high school. She made it into one of those whose-who books and all of that. She had full scholarships to many colleges, and was accepted into NYU. Her parents, although they'd lived just outside of NYC for 30 years (longer for her mother) refused to consider NYU. Lehigh was too far for their baby. So they sent her off to Sacred Heart in Connecticut. She hated it.

Sure, she made some friends. There was a nun there who she still speaks fondly of. Maybe some of the teachers were good, I don't remember at this point. The other people at the school were terrible. She was saddled with a crappy roommate and had to switch, that roommate never let it go, though. She and her friends decided to make college unbearable for my wife and her new roommate and they largely succeeded. Her grades were still decent, though. So she was able to transfer schools easily, at the cost of some of her scholarships.

Next up was Wright State in Ohio. Here she made a lot of friends, and she had a pretty good time. I'm reminded of some of the parties and pranks on an almost daily basis. Of course, the problem here was hardly the school or the people... it was me. Our relationship was a huge distraction from her studies. I didn't support her. My life was a mess and it generally rubbed off on her. Her GPA was approaching 3, which she thought was passable though she certainly wasn't thrilled by it. Turns out it wasn't, she lost her financial aid after they raised the standards slightly. She'd found a school she liked but she could no longer attend.

Defeated, she returned to Jersey and worked. And worked. And worked. She's a hard worker. Her whole family is. I'm envious of their work ethic. Of course, something didn't sit right with her. She'd spent four years in college and had nothing to show for it. When she said she wanted to go back I knew this time had to be different.

She enrolled in Bergen Community in NJ. Nothing fancy this time. Bergen is fairly reasonable if you live in the county and it just so happens that we lived in the ass crack of Bergen at the time. I liked to call our place the last house in Saddle Brook, because we were technically in Saddle Brook but for all intents and purposes we lived in Garfield. Please don't take too much offense if you live in that area, but I was not a fan. Still, she was able to go to a decent community college on the cheap and that's what she did.

This time was different, though. She had to work while going to school. Fortunately, unlike me, she could keep pace with two full time schedules. She was on course for an AS in two years. At this point she was a little uncertain what she wanted to do at school. She'd been through so much of the soc/psych program but she didn't want a degree that would be useless without a graduate degree. In the end, I don't even remember what she decided, because it didn't much matter. She knew she was going to go on to another school rather than rest on her associates degree. Ultimately it came down to one gym class. The problem? I was working in NYC and she was pregnant, still working, and just couldn't be bothered for a diploma she'd do little with. She wanted to move on and so she did. Another two years of school and still nothing.

She enrolled in William Paterson in Wayne. You might recognize it as the school that Sammi from The Jersey Shore attends. It's still fun to point that out. Anyway, she was set on education when she enrolled. She was accepted into the department and was doing well. Yet, every new semester brought new drama. Her advisors told her contradictory things and kept changing the program requirements. She could feel her work slipping away again. It would take an extra year, at least, at this rate. She was attending full time, spending the rest of her time being a mom. [I believe being a full time student is far easier than being a full time mom.]

Another change was in order. She switched to social work. This department was much better. She was back on track. As she approached her last year it looked like everything would fall into place. Of course, at this point we knew better. She wasn't able to take either her qualitative or quantitative research classes in the fall. This forced her to take both classes in the spring so that she could take senior seminar over the summer - that is, if she could get permission to take them both at once and if senior seminar would be offered. This set up the spring semester from hell.

She was approved to take both classes at once, though some people thought she was crazy for wanting to do it. There wasn't a choice, really. It was that or she wouldn't graduate this school year. Disaster almost struck immediately, she had to switch around her schedule three times because after a single class with the one professor she knew she'd fail. Turns out that wouldn't be her only problem that semester, the teacher she eventually had for quantitative was terrible. He didn't teach the class such that any of the students understood the material, then he waited until the last three weeks of class to approve everyone's work and give a semester's worth of exams all at once. My wife is the only person in the class who got an A. We know this because he apparently showed another student. In fact, she got an A in all four of her classes that semester.

On to summer semester. At this point we have to thank her professor for even offering to teach the class. No other teacher would, and a couple dozen students wouldn't graduate this school year without it. After the semester from hell this one was easy in comparison. The course requires you to do three things, write a research paper, give a presentation on your findings, and take an exam. Done, done, and done. In the meantime she interviewed for jobs, got one, took her GRE, and was accepted into graduate school. She doesn't rest on her laurels.

Oh yeah, she also got her other diploma around the same time. Actually, the same day she was hired. It turns out that Bergen changed their program eliminating the gym requirement. When she received mail from them she was perplexed. What could it be? Oh, it's just a diploma issued in May 2010 from a school she hasn't attended in two years. It should be fun to explain this to employers.

That's really it. She's been in college intermittently for 15 years. She was enrolled at some point during at least 10 of those years. Now she has two diplomas from two different institutions, finally some validation for all her work.

As for me, I'm inspired. I've been back in school for the last year. It's a hard slog, especially with the way my time is split. Yet, I don't think it quite compares to the trials she's been through. It merely helps me to appreciate her work.

That's why I decided to write out her story, because I think it needs to be told to fully appreciate how great this accomplishment is. She didn't give up. Sure, life got in the way, but that didn't stop her. She worked damned hard and earned her degrees at least twice over. I'm proud. Exceptionally proud. So much that I wasn't quite sure how to express it. The only thing I could think of was this.

I love you Karenann.


Professor Ranjan said...

This is such a wonderful tribute for a truly wonderful woman and an amazing student! It's nice to know her story...coz if you had not told it...I would have never known!

Karen is bright and hard working - tenacious! She deserves all the successes and some more. One thing for sure...she is fortunate to have a hubby like you!

PS: You are a good writer, would like to have YOU in my class Dan!

Dan said...

Thank you, Professor Ranjan. If we're ever at the same school I'll take you up on the offer.