I Was a Fifty-year-old Graduate- By Lisa Perron
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” C.S. Lewis
I never intended to go to college. I knew that I wanted to be a stay-at-home wife and mother, so I didn’t see the point. But as my senior year of high school ended, I panicked. I was supposed to be an adult after all. I had no idea what to do, so I decided to give college a try. It was the only way that I could think of to avoid growing up for a few more years. I was faced with another decision that I wasn’t prepared for. What did I find interesting enough to study? What did I have passion for? I could only think of one thing: babies.
In April of my senior year, I had the honor of being a labor and delivery coach for one of my best friends. Witnessing the miracle of that precious baby girl entering the world was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had. Since I’d decided to go to college, I might as well become a labor and delivery nurse. I enrolled in our local college and, in my eighteen-year-old wisdom, took chemistry my first semester.
There was a huge problem with taking on the challenge of college chemistry. I went through high school with the goal of only graduating high school. I took the easiest classes I could get away with. The only science that I took in high school was Life Science. I was totally unprepared for this level of scientific study. My college professor expected everyone to know how to work in a science lab. My lab experience had only included dissecting a frog and a worm. I didn’t know what any of the equipment was or what it was for, so my lab experience was a total disaster. The book work required in that chemistry class was equally tragic.
For it to count toward my nursing degree, I needed at least a C. I barely scraped out a D. Staying in college would mean that I would have to go through that scientific nightmare all over again, so I decided to quit college. I was convinced that I wasn’t smart enough to ever graduate. My decision to give up college haunted me for years.
A couple years later, I got married and eventually became a mother. When my oldest daughter was entering the fifth grade and my second daughter was ready for kindergarten, we decided to homeschool. I knew God was calling me to teach my children, but I had this nagging voice in the back of my head that said, “You aren’t smart enough to do this.” Through the grace of God, I managed to successfully homeschool five all my children for fourteen years.
The desire to return to school and finish my degree started as a whisper. One of the best benefits of homeschooling was discovering how much I loved learning. Every year my ache to finish my degree grew heavier, until finally, at the age of forty-six, I went back to school. I was terrified that I was right all those years ago when I thought that I couldn’t handle the demands of college, but I was determined not to be a quitter this time.
Walking into my first classroom in almost thirty years was terrifying. I looked around the classroom to see that I was by far the oldest student there. I was sure everyone would stare at me and wonder what in the world I was doing there. But they didn’t. They were busy being terrified themselves. We were all starting over at ground zero, embarking on a new exciting and, yes, scary adventure.
My college experience this time around was much different than my first attempt. By the time I’d graduated from high school, the joy of learning had been sucked out of me. This time, after teaching and learning along with my kids, I was eager to learn. I’d always had a passion for writing. I’d spent years writing in secret. This time, I knew what I would study. This time I knew my passion. I began that year not only with the goal of finishing my degree but also to become a better writer. I had one giant hurdle that I needed to get over in order to reach my goal of graduating: science.
After my catastrophic experience in college chemistry, I was more than a little apprehensive about another attempt at any science class. I put it off as long as I could. With shaking hands, I signed up for Introduction to Biology. To my surprise, I enjoyed that class. I even finished the class with an A. Miracles happen.
We all have voices in our heads that tell us that we don’t measure up. Voices that say, we’re not skinny enough or pretty enough or smart enough or fill in the blank with whatever lie our voices are telling us. We convince ourselves that we are not capable of making our dreams come true. We’re too busy to do what it takes to make it happen. I spent years saying, “After this is over, I can return to school.” Only, there was always another this. By the time I was in my forties, I thought it was too late. But, as long as we have breath, it’s never too late.
It’s funny that as graduation came closer, I found myself having similar fears as I had as a seventeen-year-old. What was I going to do next? Walking across the stage as a fifty-year-old graduate marked the end of journey that took decades to walk. Endings always make way for new beginnings, and beginnings are always exciting and, yes, terrifying. But the good news is that we don’t have to take those first steps of a new journey alone. With each new adventure, we learn a little more about the man or woman God made us to be. The more we learn about ourselves, the more we will learn about our creator. I don’t think we will fully be aware of who we are until we meet God face-to-face. If we stop trying new things, we stop discovering, and if we stop discovering, we stop living.
Now, go find your dream.