Friday, August 1, 2014

What if I Had Gone to College?

This past week, our boot camp was on the USC campus. It was a lot quieter than I suspect a normal semester would be in college; even though there were various summer programs running.

I trekked from the parking structure to our dorm room which was about two and a half blocks away. I had to make two trips because I had too much stuff: a suitcase, a tote full of water bottles and Starbucks vanilla Frappuccinos, some fruit and other snacks, my laptop case with notebooks, pens and highlighters and finally, my purse. As I walked, I pictured an alternate version of my life. One where I was fresh out of high school, unloading my stuff as my sisters fussed about where I'd put my mini-fridge and how to organize my closet and reassuring me that I wouldn't hate my roommates... My mom and dad would be misty-eyed because their last baby was all grown up and off to college.

When I got to my dorm room and started to unpack, I couldn't help but wonder what my life would have been like if I had been able to go to college, if I had experienced on-campus living. Going way back, what if my childhood had been different? What if my Dad wasn't an alcoholic? What if my high school career hadn't been about surviving and more about thriving? What if my parents had stayed together and made sure I had that college experience? Would my sisters have showed up to get me settled? What type of friends would I have made? Would some of us still be friends, walking this journey into marriage and motherhood together? What would I have majored in? What would I be doing now? Would Bryan and I have reconnected, gotten married and had Shepherd? 

Having this experience made me wonder about a life that had been outside of my reach. It made me yearn for things to have been different so I could have been different... which doesn't really do much anyone much good. But, I've always been the type to peer at the "other side" of the fence and think it looks better than mine. Luckily, I've always been smart enough to know that looks can be deceiving and I am where I am for a reason.

As I clutched my book bag and zoomed about campus to wherever I needed to be next, I looked at the students riding their bikes to get from A to B. I took notice of the large brick buildings and the kids sitting on the steps, talking about who knows what, showing each other whatever crazy thing was tweeted, sitting under trees doing homework or nursing a headache from previous nights activities. I was sad. I was sad that it wasn't necessarily a matter of choice that I didn't go to college or live in the dorm. It was a matter of practicality.

I was on my own when I turned 17. Everything I did, I figured it out. I had to get a job and support myself. I was productive and not-at-all a partier. I worked, I lived, I worked. I didn’t hit up bars or drink too much. I never went clubbing. My idea of a hoppin’ Friday night was to grab dinner and see a movie. Woooo! Out of control! I didn't meet up with people at Starbucks to work on homework or to exchange notes. I was happy that I didn't have to study for finals or worry about grades.

A large part of me knew that I wasn’t ready to go to college. I knew what the plan was. Step 1: Gain more and better work experience. Step 2: Get a good job. Step 3: Use good job to pay for college later in life. I always knew I would go back to school. It was never out of the question. When people would ask me, I would tell them that I'd be the person that went back later in life to finish up my schooling. I'd get some funny looks but I just knew that it was a path that was right for me, even if unconventional. What I didn’t know is that by waiting to attend college, I was giving up a certain type of college experience. It’s a lot harder to be 27+ and connect to the 18+ year olds that are your peers. It’s hard to be a wife and a mom and find other wives and moms that are in college.

Going to boot camp for this program gave me a taste of that. I had dorm roommates (we all got our own room though) and we shared two bathrooms between the three of us. We gathered at night for group projects and sat huddled on our computers trying to make sense of it all. We laughed to break tension and we mediated when people got a little crazy. We extended help to other groups and they did the same.

After a grueling project the night before, our instructors gave us Saturday night without homework, so we hit the local pizza place and then moseyed on over to a bar or two. Most of our group had cocktails while I had a decaf coffee and just enjoyed the atmosphere. It was a little taste of something I had to miss as a youngster and even though it was different, it was good.

It was nice to sample what could have been. It was even better going back home.

**Pictures of USC buildings from Google. In order: Parkside Arts and Humanities dorm where we stayed;  Dorm room layout (my room is on the right side); View of the Ronald Tutor Center, where most of our instruction was held, On our way back to the dorms after a night out, our group that stopped to play the piano by the Tutor building (Photo Credit: Claudine); My husband and son in costumes at our friends house in Hawaii. 


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