Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

This is my final post in a 15 part series to tell the stories of my youth with Janna over at Mommy's Piggy Tales.

I graduated from high school in June of 1975. I graduated from college in May of 2003. Not everyone takes 28 years to complete a college education, but I did. I found myself in the spring of 2002 re-evaluating my goals, and knew that if I were ever going to finish those 7 classes that I needed to graduate I'd better do it soon.Was I content to be only 7 classes short of a college degree? For the rest of my life?

As I was contemplating all of this, a curious set of circumstances fell into place--almost like the planets aligned in the correct order. The 401(k) that I had gotten in a divorce settlement was doing very well. Funds were available for me to quit my job and finish school. My oldest step-daughter was about to be a senior in high school, and then we would have her in it was sort of a now or never situation. I had a job that was beginning to drive me batty. I was certain that the church job I had was taking years off the end of my life. I loved my boss, but my goodness! I couldn't keep up with him. So one day in late April of 2002, I checked the class schedule for the following year. Guess what? The 7 classes that I wanted (not that would meet the requirements, but classes I wanted) to take were not only being offered, but were also being taught by the professors I would have chosen to study under. 1 class in the summer mini-semester, 3 in the fall and 3 in the spring.

I re-enrolled, signed up for the classes, turned in my notice and by golly...I went back to school. This was it. It was now or never time. It was time toMan Up or Go Home (a motivational phrase used by one of Rocket Man's former favorite basketball coaches).

One more time, I bought my books, filled up my backpack, went back to a familiar room in Roberts Hall and was once again immersed in the education process. That summer mini-semester nearly killed me. Renaissance and Reformation in a month. We went to school 4 days a week and were in class for 3 1/2 hours. It was killer. Every night, I would read (scan and hope I caught what he wanted) as many as 600 pages for the next days' class. It was a class for seniors and graduate students. I thought I would die. I knew it was going to kill me. I loved it. I felt like I'd come back home.

The academic year flew by and I did my share of student whining, crying, procrastinating, paper writing, had test anxiety and did more than a few all-nighters. My papers were all written and turned in. All I had left to do was take those final exams and walk the stage to get my diploma. Only glitch in the whole thing was that my precious Neenie, my dear grandmother, was dying with congestive heart failure. She died the night after I attended my last class.

Rocket Man and I drove home to Missouri early the next morning, to celebrate her life and mourn her death with my family. I called back to the school and made arrangements to take my finals late. My professors were very kind and sympathetic. There would be time to take my finals when I returned home, and one of them was so kind as to send me the final via email. I took it and emailed it back to him. I will never forget how wonderful that felt. To be trusted and shown such compassion. I rode home after the funeral with my head in a book, but I don't think I really got anything out of that studying.

I took a deep breath, pulled on my big-girl panties and took those tests. I passed with flying colors. They were the types of tests that cramming for would have never helped, anyway. You either got the concepts and could write about them or you didn't. I got them.

There was last minute paperwork to take care of between finals and graduation. I had this silly fear that some lady in an administrative office would call and say that I was lacking a class in Breathing-for Credit or something. It was a28 year recurring nightmare that after all that work, I had missed something.

But I got that paper that paper signed off by every necessary person and I got out the gown that I had purchased and tried to steam the wrinkles off of it. My parents drove to town, as did my son and daughter in law. I was actually going to graduate from college. I could hardly believe it!

May 11, 2003 dawned bright and clear. It was Mother's Day, and so wonderful to spend it with not only my Dear Mother, but also my precious children AND grandchildren. One of my stepdaughters was even with us for part of the day. We went to church and then out to lunch and my anticipation was building like crazy.

I had hummed Pomp and Circumstance for so long that it felt like my theme song. And,finally. At long last, here I was. I donned my cap and gown (and my honor cords...I was so proud) and found my assigned spot in the line. I didn't see a soul I knew, but it didn't matter. The line began to move and we snaked through the civic center. I reached up to check my funny hat, made sure my white tassel on the correct side and we emerged into the arena. I heard a familiar tune. Could it be? Was the orchestra really and truly playing....YES!


That turned into one of the longest afternoons of my life. Some man gave a speech that nobody listened to. Yada, yada, yada. Get to the good stuff, please. We graduated by colleges, and the College ofLiberal Arts was 3rd. I read every name in my program as they called them out. I counted how many names until my college would stand en masse. Finally, our escort signaled for us to stand and I wanted to jump up and shout!!! The girl in front of me kept stopping to wave to friends and I finally put my hands on her back and gently pushed her. Excuse me? Let's go, girlie! I wanted to get to that stage. I wanted to be there when they called my name.

All of the sudden, I was up on the stairs. Check the hat. Listening. Listening. Closer to the Dean, who was beaming at me, as she knew me and my story. It had been 27 years, 11 months and 9 days since I'd walked across a stage and received any sort of academic diploma. Hurry up! Say my name. Say it right. Then, there is was. "Mollianne Buster Massey, Cum Laude." Walk across the stage. Check hat, again...dropped my grandmother's handkerchief on the stage but kept on walking. Look at the President, shake his hand and RECEIVE THE DIPLOMA! The wonderful young man behind me picked up my hankie and handed it to me. It was a good thing, because before I got down the stairs on the other side of the stage, I was in tears.

I stopped to have my picture taken by the professional photographer and looked up. My Mother and my Rocket Man were leaning over the rail, taking pictures and waving. I waved back and exclaimed, "It has my name on it! It has my name on it!"

Mollianne Buster Massey

Bachelor of Arts, Cum Laude.

A degree had been conferred upon me! Me!! With honors! Glory, glory hallelujah!

That road from Widefield High School to the 2003 Graduation Exercises of the University of Alabama in Huntsville was a long and winding road.

It took me 28 years, but by my case, slow and steady really did win the race.

I can't tell you I felt when I saw the look of pride on my Sweet Daddy's face as I showed him my diploma. It meant the world to be able to do something so positive and celebratory with my Dear Mother such a short time after she lost her own precious Mother, and on Mother's Day to boot! I cherish the gentle pride I saw in Rocket Man's eyes when he kissed me and said, "I told you that you are the smartest person I ever knew." Not many people graduate from college with their children and grandchildren in the audience. but I did! On Mother's Day, no less. I treasure that day in my heart.

This story isn't complete until I say that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to so many. To Ken McFetridge, Andy Cling, Brian Martine, Craig Hanks, Dick Gerberding, my PEO chapter, my church family, my children, my parents, my classmates and a plethora of others who encouraged and helped me along the way. Most especially to my darling Rocket Man, Ed Massey, who gently encouraged me, and helped me pass Pre-Calculus. My heart is full of gratitude every time I look at the diploma hanging on the wall of my office and know that it took a village to get me through school. Thank you, one and all.


Judy said...

What a wonderful story of dedication, perseverance and success! I had our first after my junior year and knew that if I didn't finish college then, who knows when I would have, so I went to college full time for a year with a baby, but it was worth it. I admire you and your wonderful story!

Mollianne said...

Thank you, Judy. It was hard, but I'm very glad I finished.