Every semester, I tell my students how important school is, yet sometimes my words fall on deaf ears. I state it as strongly as possible: college can change your life. But for students who’ve always known college was in their future, it’s hard for them to understand. For me, it was much easier.
I graduated from high school early, at semester time. I was glad to escape the classroom and be out on my own, making money. At the time, a computer manufacturer had just moved into town, and I could make a nice wage working the night shift. I was eighteen, life was good, and college wasn’t part of my plans.
After a few years of technical support, however, life was no longer good. I was unhappy with my job, and the only other option was management, which didn’t appeal to me. Manage a bunch of people who disliked their jobs as much as I did? That didn’t seem like the path to freedom either, but at this point, anything was better than taking tech support calls. I entertained the idea.
I was writing in the morning and in the evenings, but I certainly didn’t have a plan for my work. I wrote as a hobby; it was a creative outlet, like reading. Publishing a book was something other people did, people I couldn’t even guess about. Even after completing a romance novel, I didn’t realize writing was something I should pursue.
Then my husband found a job that moved us to Vermillion, SD. I turned down the management job to go to school full time at the University of South Dakota, and the direction of my life turned, too.
I went to college to learn to write, but what I actually learned was that my life had possibility. All those things I thought I couldn’t do? I could. It wasn’t a quick transformation. It was slow, like a minuet: a high score on a history test, a compliment from a teacher, a scholarship. Even after graduation and writing a literary novel for my master’s thesis, I didn’t sit down and think, Ah! I can publish those books now. But I did start teaching.
Teaching was a second education. I belonged to a community I didn’t know existed, a community I’m still proud to be part of. The longer I taught classes, the more I thought about writing until, eventually, I picked it up again with a new idea: someone might want to read my stuff. It was then I began writing with a goal in mind.
It’s hard to teach possibility. You can feel it, you can dream it, but it’s not in a book. I can’t have students turn to page ten to learn about their potential, nor can I make them feel my past poverty. Sometimes I wish they knew what I knew: education is a beautiful gift. Whether or not they choose to open that gift, however, is entirely up to them.