By Sharon Krueger
There is a popular saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Yet I also believe that a degree is worth a thousand words.
The two images that embody my experience of going back to school are a cocoon and a marathon.
In nature, a cocoon protects the caterpillar through the delicate process of transformation. In my world, I felt like school brought me into a cocoon, which was necessary for my mind to transform. Yet, it also created a barrier that separated me from how I used to connect with the outside world.
I missed connecting with my friends at social gatherings. The steady stream of invitations I once received trickled down to a slow drip. I still wanted an invitation to know they were thinking of me even though I was hidden away!
I took online classes to spend as much time as possible with my family. Yet, this virtual world created a barrier that made it difficult to forge any lasting personal relationships with my classmates.
When I commuted on the train each day to and from work. I wanted to take part in conversations with my train buddies. Yet, I would need to pull away to keep up with my studies.
Amidst the loneliness and seclusion, other parts of my journey felt like a marathon! My husband and children were at the starting line giving me their support. I couldn’t have started without them!
I asked one of my friends to review my first research paper since I hadn’t written one in over 20 years. She gave me pointers on transition words and how to use the infamous semi-colon. This served as a great foundation for which all my future writings would benefit. It was like she gave me the running shoes I needed to get through the long and sometimes treacherous roads.
Just like a marathon, going back to school involved immense mental focus. It took my mind and body an entire year to acclimate to the amount of energy my brain needed for that level of thinking!
Along the way, some of my friends asked me how school was going and REALLY listened. They were like those who stand alongside the road and hand out cups of water to the runners passing by. These may have seemed like fleeting moments to them, but just like water they invigorated me.
One time after the halfway mark, my motivation was at an all-time low, and I was losing faith in myself. My best friends got together and prayed for me, told me what they saw in me, and we laughed the night away. They were like the emergency crew that picks up a fallen runner, patches up their wound, and sends them on their way.
Towards the end of my journey, I took the dreaded Analyzing Literature class. I was so stressed out about taking it that I postponed it as long as possible. My daughter, who was studying to be a teacher, served as my tutor. She taught me about “literary terms” like a simile and a metaphor. She was like the light along my path when I could not see one foot in front of me.
All along, my husband encouraged me and listened as I read him my papers and shared my experiences. It was as if he was holding a sign at every checkpoint that said, “You can do it!” Throughout those four years, he also served as the family chef. It provided the sustenance to get me through. He started cooking EVERYTHING stir fry and broadened his culinary horizons. Now he is an amazing cook!
Even through the cocooning, immense mental focus, and the treacherous roads, my story DOES have a GREAT ending! After four years, I emerged from my cocoon transformed with a beautiful set of wings! I checked them out and thought for the first time that I could fly to new heights! As for the marathon runner in me, I was able to experience the thrill of victory when I crossed the finish line!
I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time!
When I look back…down that familiar road and then at my degree…. I see MORE than a piece of paper. I see the struggles, the victories, and all the people who helped me along the way. I don’t know how all that fits into a simple piece of paper but it does, and it will stay with me forever!
Let’s start a conversation!
Think about a time when someone helped you through a difficult journey and what type of impact they have on your life
In what way can you express your gratitude towards that person?