Tag Archives: Education

#Berkelly

IMG_2982

So the “Berkelly” thing happened on the day I announced on social media that I had been accepted to UC Berkeley. My friend Greg tagged me as “Berkelly” in my Instagram post. I’m honestly not one to toot my own horn or draw attention to myself–yes I know this is a personal blog, thank you very much–but somehow the tag felt…right.

Much like the decision to finally commit to Cal. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let’s take a leap back–

Agoura High School, 1979. I’m graduating from High School and all my friends are going to UCLA. I felt a nagging urge to join them, but dreams of becoming a firefighter pushed aside the ache–for a while.

My first college class was my senior year at Agoura HS. I took an EMT class at Los Angeles Pierce College.

Fast forward, Spring 2013. After a career in the fire service, I’m looking for another direction. As documented elsewhere in this blog, I thought a career in drug and alcohol treatment would be rewarding. I enroll in the Addiction Studies program back at Pierce. Shortly thereafter I start working in the field, and while your mileage may vary, I find the industry to be long on financial outcome and short on actual treatment. I’m disillusioned.

What I’m surprisingly inspired by however is my US History class at Pierce. After decades away from academia I need to write a research paper. Throat tightens, sweat glands on overload…I get this:

IMG_0036 This was it. This was all it took. Validation. The fire was lit. These words from my instructor changed the course of my life and resulted in the picture you see at the head of this blog post.

I immediately sought the advice of a school counselor and began my transfer program. Since the ache to attend UCLA had never quite subsided, I set my sights on transferring. The next two semesters found me enrolling in english and history classes. My transcripts were reflecting all A’s. I eventually started the university enrollment process and my counselor advised me to make some other choices beyond UCLA.  I decided to add UC Irvine and UC Berkeley in as whims. Irvine has a world-class english department, but Cal is recognized as having the BEST english program in the country. So naturally there was no chance of me being accepted. In fact I embraced that thought so firmly, I took absolutely no prep courses at Pierce for the major, clearly still under the impression that it was a wasted enrollment fee (an academic price I am paying my first semester at Cal).

I also applied to USC (my girlfriend’s alma mater) and Stanford (and was told by my counselor that this was truly a long-shot as their acceptance rate for transfers is only one percent).

Along this path, my counselor introduced me to a recruiter from Columbia University. He encouraged me to apply. I did.

My last year a Pierce was characterized by the loss of nearly $800 in application fees, documents, tests, and materials. Yes, Stanford made me take the SAT again–that experience could easily be a subject of another blog post in and of itself.

Lots of work on my UC personal statement ensued. I had to take the english-only portion of the 2013 SAT for Columbia.

Decisions were due in April of this year. But Columbia was notifying in February. On the day of their notification, I opened the web page…I read the words from the dean saying that he would like to congratulate me on my acceptance to Columbia University. I was reading this to my girlfriend over the phone. This was as far as I could get into the first paragraph before I broke down into uncontrollable sobbing. I had been accepted into an Ivy League. My life had been a series of struggles and opportunities to overcome adversity. These words put me down. I was so proud. The inspiring words of my US History teacher paved the way for my acceptance. I had been mentored. I had been inspired. Education matters. Teaching matters. I am a living and breathing example of the power of education and mentor-ship.

Now thoughts of moving to Manhattan danced in my head. The music ended on that dance when the reality of the cost of attendance intervened.

April came. I was accepted to UC Irvine. Awesome! If UCLA doesn’t come through, I’ve got an option.

April 26. 5 p.m. UCLA is set to release their announcement…I got in!!! I immediately donned the UCLA cap that I purchased a year prior and put it squarely on my head. I had vowed that it wouldn’t touch me until I got in…that day had arrived. I was over-the-top! My nagging ache since 1979 had been satisfied…I was finally a Bruin.

Almost as an afterthought, 48 hours later I opened Cal’s admission page to see that I had been accepted. I was incredulous. This wasn’t part of the plan! And their offer of financial aid was highly competitive.

Less that a week later my mom died. She was in the Bay Area so I decided to at least make a campus visit to Berkeley so I could justify my decision to attend UCLA…

I set foot on campus on a Friday morning. I sat in Sproul Plaza by myself. It was overcast. It was quiet. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t know right then and there that I was home. I took a guided tour later that day and attended the Chancellor’s welcome the next day, but honestly, it was a formality. I was home. I felt it in the core of my being. UCLA had always been my dream, but I was walking on the campus of my reality…my future…my home.

Berkelly was home…

I was awaiting 2 more acceptance notifications. USC had requested my spring grades from Pierce prior to making their decision, which I found odd since I had carried a 4.0 GPA throughout my tenure at Pierce, but nonetheless I provided them (4.0 cumulative) and found out three days ago that USC had indeed accepted me.

But Stanford was the only significant roadblock…I received a letter from them stating that although I was highly competitive, and they wished they had more space, I did not receive an offer of admission.

Within two minutes I committed to Berkeley.

I’m a Golden Bear. My girlfriend and I move to Albany in July. I’m about to enter a buzz-saw of grade-deflation and challenges that I’ve never experienced. But I’m beyond excited. I plan on earning by BA in English, possibly double majoring or minoring, and then finding a doctoral program upon completion.

I’d love to steer the focus of this blog towards my experience as a non-traditional/returning student at Cal. But we shall see…I will do my utmost to report from the front lines AFTER I get all my assignments completed.

To those of you who have patiently followed my adventures, I thank you. You are all part of the community of inspiration that has made me a Bear.

#gobears

#berkelly


A Brief Detour to the Other Side of my Brain…

 

So the dearth of posts here recently can be explained by something other than my general lethargy or reticence to engage.

For the last year-and-a-half, my academic career (community college) has taken me from one side of my brain to the other.

I originally re-enrolled at the community college that I took my first class in 1979. Yes kids, you heard that right…1979. It was an Emergency Medical Technician class I took as a senior in high school. That class led to a 26 year career as a first responder (EMT, Paramedic, Fire Captain).

When life intervened in 1999 and my world turned upside down as the result of my step-son’s car accident…all the best laid plans I had flew out the door before I realized they were missing. Without rehashing the last two decades (artfully hidden elsewhere in this blog), in the spring of 2013 I decided that a degree in Addiction Studies would afford me a stable career in a field I believed deeply in.

Well, two things happened: when I began my coursework, I also found a job in the field and was quickly disillusioned at the profit-making nature of the business; but more importantly, while taking my basic coursework for the AS, I found a passion for learning again. Not to say that as I younger student that I craved knowledge (far from it), but I found that as an adult with some life experience under my belt, that what I was learning about politics, world history, literature, and mathematics simply enthralled me.

Yet again, I steered a course change and decided to obtain a BA in English at UCLA (other fantasy universities include Berkeley and Georgetown).

Based upon by GPA, I was accepted into my colleges Honors Transfer Program for UCLA, and for the past three semesters I’ve been slogging through Math and Spanish courses. I dreaded Math and looked forward to Spanish. Both expectations were misguided.

It turns out that in order to attain fluency in a language, immersion and more than three semesters of the language is required. So after 3 semesters I can read and conjugate verbs like a boss but am panic stricken if I actually have to form real sentences in my head. Still, I managed to get A’s all three semesters.

Math was the surprise. I have always suffered from profound math anxiety, and frankly was dreading these classes. What I found was a real “duh” moment. If you put in the work, study, ask questions, seek outside help, that math is actually pretty stimulating. Don’t get me wrong, there were moments in Logarithms where I was sure the nuclear anxiety would take me out, but I persisted on and moved onto Honors Statistics last semester; another class that 4 years ago I would never have even had the courage to attempt.  I’ve received A’s in all 3 math classes the last 3 semesters. No one is more shocked than me…

So here I am…finished with the core work to get into university and back to my true love…general knowledge. This semester is going to be very challenging as I have three Honors classes: Physical Anthropology, Cinema, and English (persuasive writing). It also means a boat-load of research papers and familiarity with MLA/APA that I haven’t used in the last year-and-a-half.

So, of course the panic has set in…but it’s a panic that has enabled me to maintain (fingers desperately crossed) a 4.0 GPA during my time here. I didn’t set out to do this by any means; it has simply been a by-product of my thirst for knowledge and has now become self-perpetuating.

Three more semesters to go and I’m hoping to report my entrance into UCLA (or CAL or Georgetown or, as my life seems to arc, somewhere else I haven’t planned) as a junior.

Until then, my brain has shifted back to the other side, the non-math/language side and I’m hoping to crank out some more Conversations with the Moon…

 


Skool Daze….

I’ve ruefully neglected this blog for the last several months.

I just finished 2.5 years at a community college (no really, I took my last final less than an hour ago) while in pursuit of a transfer to UCLA and the ever popular Bachelor of Arts in English.

To date (today), I’ve managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA. Um…pretty sure that ends this week when grades are released.

I’m 54 years young, work full-time and have been carrying just under a full-time schedule in school. This year, in order to satisfy the requirements of the Honors Transfer Program I’m in, I needed to take Elementary and Intermediate Algebra (all the basic Algebra leading into Stats, Calc, etc.) as well as Spanish I and II.

Two distinct languages to learn. Two VERY hard classes for me. Although I’m an English major, I triaged my time and concentrated primarily on Algebra. I’ve always suffered from major math anxiety, but through a ton of hard work, have actually learned to enjoy math this year.

Well right up until last Saturday when I had to take my final that would release me to UC level math (I need to take Honors Stats next Fall)…

Thank God I walked into that exam with a 96% because after the first problem, all the formulas in my head magically disappeared behind a veil of clinical panic.

I simply couldn’t remember simple formulas after I saw a problem I specifically decided NOT to study for…certain it wouldn’t be on the final.

I could go on and on about my anxiety and depression after the test, but suffice it to say I pulled my head out of my ass and put things in perspective.

What I did learn is my ego has carried my through this 4.0 journey and as with all things pride, I needed a knock upside the head. Time to quit relying on my ability to “see” the answer during these tests and actually put in more hard work than I have been willing to exert.

At the end of the day, if I do that, I will excel. If I don’t, I’ll continue to ride this tenuous GPA right into the ground.

So hello blog world. I’m back for at least the summer on a semi-regular basis to hone my writing and try desperately to forget logarithms and rational equations…

Goodbye 4.0…hello humility.


Mid-Term Malaise…or How I Found Courage in the Gallows of Boredom

No, this post isn’t about the midterm elections this week, although I do have a whopper brewing in my head vis-a-vis my utter disappointment with the incumbent president’s performance.

This is about the space I find myself currently in.

Sheer boredom. Malaise. Mind numbing…nothingness.

I’m just slightly halfway through my fall semester at college. I haven’t blogged in quite some time. I’m slogging through core class requirements as I muddle my way towards my final two years at UCLA.

I worked 88 hours the last two weeks while studying for two exams in my Spanish and Algebra class respectively.

I have no life.

I have no time to blog/write anything other than vapid responses into the lamest online Spanish software ever created. Software that the instructor admits is inferior and responds to our concerns with “it’s not my problem, it’s your problem”.

Welcome to junior college.

This sucks…

I had an extraordinarily rare day off today that I spent getting a flat fixed, driving to my old college to begin the academic renewal process for an “F” I received 29 years ago in a Poli Sci class; and riding my bike 20 miles. I then spent well over 5 hours grinding through my Spanish exam and homework.

And it hit me.

Courage isn’t what happens when you are facing an immediate threat. Courage is borne out of the little things.

The willingness to persist when giving up would be so much simpler; when you can find a hundred reasons to rationalize your decision.

Courage is faith. Being willing to put one foot in front of the other when you can’t see the finish line. When you’re not even entirely sure where that finish line is and what it will look like.

I walked into the middle of a physical altercation the other day outside my apartment. A fight was in progress and I was in the midst of it before I was even sure what it was. I responded forcefully and decisively and defused the situation. Not because I have courage, but because it was reflexive, muscle memory gained in a previous lifetime.

Courage is simply not giving up when you’re not entirely sure what the outcome will be. But you know you’re doing the right thing, despite the sheer pedestrian nature of the task. And the long hours. And the absence of a social life.

It’s a quality problem to have. As tough as this road is right now, I know how fortunate I am to be on this path.

So to all those erstwhile meek students out there, grinding out those core classes, quietly tolerating those professors who are phoning it in while they collect their checks…I salute you.

In your own redundant ways, you’re displaying a great deal of courage.


Don’t Piss Off the Professor…

I’m 52 and going back to college.  It’s been awhile since I’ve been at this institute of higher learning.

34 years to be exact.  34 years ago, the perception I had of professors is apparently different from the one I have now.  I learned the hard way last night that professors are not perfect–don’t know everything–and get kinda pissy when you know more than they do.

I should have expected that 34 years of life experience and real-world education brings more to the classroom than the other undergrads I share elementary school desks with.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a know-it-all in any sense of the word, but one of the reasons I’m passionate about school is the opportunity to engage in an exchange of ideas and beliefs.

So last night, at the start of class, the Professor begins with a discussion of current events.  She led with the poor guy in Florida who was swallowed by the sink hole.  Sorry, Prof, but I can get this on American’s favorite infotainment news network–CNN, so I promptly changed the subject to the Attorney General’s unwillingness to rule out targeted Drone strikes on US citizens on US soil (he subsequently issued a statement recanting this).  She immediately became indignant and stated that she needed to know the context.  I briefly summarized the current debate over the Administration’s targeted killing program, and again, she hedged and seemed irritated and essentially dismissed my “current event”.

To say my ego was bruised is an understatement.  It took about an hour before I finally realized she didn’t have a clue what I was talking about and it apparently embarrassed her (speculation on my part, I admit).  Nonetheless it taught me a lesson.  I need to remember that Professors are human too and are subject to the same life stressors we all have and she may not have the same keen interest/passion in current events that I do.  Granted it is a US History class (1860-present) but hey, I’ll cut her some slack.  She’s a competent instructor with a passion for teaching and an engaging style.

I just need to remember to that not everybody see the world through my lenses…and moderate my expectations in junior college while maintaining my enthusiasm for learning.


College…I Hardly Knew Ye…

I don’t have a college degree and it’s something that has irritated me for as long as I can remember.  In high school, I was a quasi-nerd and hung out with guys that were on the fast track for 4 year colleges and collected their BA/BS’s in the requisite 4 years.  I was career-oriented and on the fast track for the emergency services field.  I ended up with a 25 year career in that field.

So today, I finally got off my literal and proverbial ass and drove the 30 minutes to the same community college where I took my first college class (while a senior in high school) in, ready for this: 1978.

Save for 18 units at another local community college, and a brief semester in Law School (tested in as a “special student”) I have no real college experience.  I’m 51.  I’m giving myself however long it takes to get a Bachelor’s in, oh, I don’t know…maybe English Literature (subject to change).  In the short-term however I’m going to attempt to get a certificate/license in Alcohol and Drug Counseling and perhaps switch fields while I pursue my degree.  All of this while I write a memoir and novel and work full-time at a high-end retail establishment.  No big deal.

I’ve got one daughter in her freshman year of college in DC and a son who is a junior in high school considering West Point or the Naval Academy.  I can do this.  I’m terrified and excited, but my biggest challenge frankly will be me and my commitment… specifically to the discipline it will take to do this.

But I’m over the biggest hurdle.  I actually went to the college, got my old ID number from 1978, got a counseling appointment next week, and tonight I will apply online.

I’m 51 and I feel like a nervous kid again.  That’s a good thing.

 


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