The Paperwork is Finished!

College Diploma
Receiving a Diploma

As the old saying goes; “No job is complete until the paperwork is finished.” Well, for my senior citizen college adventure, the job is finished. A few days ago I received my graduate diploma via snail mail. It was a very nice feeling indeed.

My College Journey

I enrolled in the nearby George Mason University back in December 2018, to start the Winter 2019 semester. I had spent almost a year thinking about going back to school before I finally decided to take the plunge. Considering I was already classified as a senior citizen was part of my consideration. Paying for school was another consideration. In the end, Winnie was ok with me going to school so that made the difference.

My academic past was another big issue in my decision. High school years were a wretched experience, and left scars that never healed. I graduated with a straight “C” average, and chose not to drop out only because I needed a High School diploma for Navy enlistment. My academics since then have been mixed. In my initial Navy electronics training courses I did well, only to crash and burn during the last major school I attended.

My first college attempt was for an Associate in Business Administration, taken through a private college “National University.” I started this program on my first shore-duty assignment as a Navy Instructor, stationed in San Diego, California. As one of the early colleges to focus on adult education and non-traditional learning, it had a mixed perception among non-alumni. During my degree program here, I ended up with a 3.5 and graduated “Cum Laude.” It was the first time in my learning career I had ever earned any academic awards.

National University Associate Applied Science (Business) Degree
National University Associate Degree

I started working towards my Bachelors in Marketing several years later, while I was stationed in Naples, Italy. The Navy supported an education program for evaluating Navy training for college credits and I had my academics evaluated. I ended up with a lot of college credits, enough to take a small bite out of my bachelors-level program.

I eventually earned my Bachelors Marking through then Regents College, since renamed Excelsior College. This is a non-residency program offered by New York State and based in Albany. My program was a mix of in-classroom coursework through several universities, and correspondence courses through two more. I didn’t complete this until the year before I retired, earning my diploma in January 1995. Although the college did not offer academic awards, I did finish with a 3.54 GPA.

Regents University (Excelsior College) Bachelors Degree
Regents University Bachelors Degree

My MBA Non-Starter Attempt

I tried working on an Masters Business Administration (MBA) shortly after I retired, but life got in the way. Adjusting to civilian life took most of my energy, and trying to fit into a new career took the rest. One option would have been to focus on my degree and have my then-wife help support us. It wouldn’t have taken much; between my pension, Veteran’s Administration tuition assistance, and the low cost-of-living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we didn’t need much extra income. But my then-wife wasn’t interested in doing that.

I also looked at a new-program being taught in Mobile, Alabama, titled “Instructional Design.” It was probably an early version of the program I just finished. But, once again, I was stymied as the school was too far for me to work and take classes, and my then-wife was not willing to exert herself with a job.

So, I put aside my Graduate school plans and focused on my work career for the next 23 years.

I Take the Plunge

Back in the beginning of 2018 I started thinking harder about going back to school. By then, I had earned a number of professional certifications, all of which required some level of academics. I had always felt at a disadvantage working in my consulting firm, as most people held at least a Graduate degree. I could see retirement in my not-too-distant future, and knew if I was going to try for another degree my window of opportunity was closing. Fast. By now, I also knew that I wanted to earn my Graduate degree in education.

So, I did my research and found that local George Mason University offered a program in Instructional Design and Technology, the exact degree focus I wanted to pursue. Financial considerations were greatly helped by the tuition benefits my company offered. The school campus was nearby in Fairfax, Virginia, and most classes were online. Most importantly; Winnie was willing to support me in going back to school. So, I took the plunge and enrolled.

It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

Ursula K. Le Guin

I knew I needed to finish in two years, mostly because of my age. Taking classes up to or after I retired from my working career was not appealing. I was also concerned about my ability to concentrate on my education beyond two years without life getting in the way. Then my advisor mapped out my courses for a two-year program. The way she mapped it out, there were two semesters of taking eight credits that rather scared me. But, I made the commitment.

First Semester The Most Difficult

My first semester was the most difficult. I was carrying six credits (two full classes) and there was a lot of work involved. Just to add complications, my mom’s health took a rapid downturn during the semester. Mom did pass about mid-semester, and although my professors were willing to work with me in delaying assignment turn-ins, I knew I would be hard-pressed to catch up. So I juggled mom’s funeral arrangements with school and work.

I made it through that first semester mostly because my teammates in one class helped carry me. Between their help, and a lot of effort, I pulled “A” in both classes. This was a great boost in moral and set the stage for the rest of my program.

I completed my last two courses in December. The one last course was a bit touch-and-go as it seemed poorly organized and I was late on several assignments. But the teacher was a relaxed grader and worked with me. I closed out my college program with straight “A” in my classes for an overall 4.0 GPA. Given how I completed high school so many years earlier, this was a total thrill and huge feeling of vindication.

George Mason Graduate Degree Education
George Mason Graduate Degree

The Finish Line

So I made it across the finish line, a Graduate program completed in two years. My graduation bonus was to be offered membership in The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. Which I happily accepted. However, due to the ongoing pandemic, graduation was a virtual ceremony. So I didn’t get to walk the aisle in cap and gown. But, there’s things much worse than that, so I’m good.

I now have a lot of free time on my hands. I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. But, I’ll think of something.

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