Tell us about your first day at something — your first day of school, first day of work, first day living on your own, first day blogging, first day as a parent, whatever.
I was excited. I was nervous. I was exhilarated. I was scared.
I was going back to school. At age 50, I had decided to change career paths. I was going to get a Master of Social Work degree so I could do private practice counseling.
It was a very pretty campus about 20 minutes away from my home. It was rural, lots of grass and trees and even an ocassional “moo” from a herd of cows I spotted as I drove onto campus for the first evening of classes. I had dressed in what, for me, was fairly casual clothing: A dark skirt, a comfortable knit top. I knew I’d be one of the older students in the course, but that didn’t bother me. What I was afraid of was that my “student skills” were rusty, and I wouldn’t be able to keep up with students in their 20’s or 30’s.
So, I parked in the designated area, gathered up my purse, bookbag (a gift from one of my sons) and my courage, and walked into the building. Students milled around a central office area, picking up schedules and locating the classrooms they needed with the help of maps posted in a couple of strategic locations.
I approached the receptionist, smiled, gave her my name and asked for my schedule.
“Sure, Mrs. Kreger. What classes will you be teaching? Are you new on staff? Most of the professors have already picked up all their information.”
I laughed. “No, I’m a student, not a teacher.”
“Oh! Oh, well, here you go then, and I’m sorry if I embarrassed you!”
“Nope. Not embarrassed at all. Just nervous,” I replied.
I found the classroom quickly, spotted an empty desk, and sat down.Some other students nodded or smiled. A couple of them exchanged names with me. One asked me how old I was. When I said, “I’m 50,” he smiled and said, “That’s awesome! I love seeing an older person going back to school!”
Older person. Phht. I’ll show these kids “older person.”
I was pleased to see several who had a lot more grey hair than I did.
When the professor walked in, he started talking before he’d even put his things down on his desk. “The first thing we’re going to do is get to know one another. Take a piece of paper and answer these questions: Name, undergrad degree, reason for choosing social work, present job, and what you want to do with your MSW.”
He gave us about 10 minutes. We passed everything up to the front, and since I was in a front-row desk he decided to focus on me first. “So, Linda Kreger. You’re how old?”
“I’m 50, but you didn’t ask us to tell you that. Does it matter?”
“No, not at all. I’m just curious. Anyone else in the room older than this young lady? No? Well, Linda, you have the honor of being the grand old lady of the class!”
“Thanks. I think.”
The class laughed, and the prof continued to focus on me. “So, let’s see. You want to be in private practice counseling. Why? What do you have to offer people who need counseling?”
“Why? Because I’ve always been interested in the field. Because my husband has gone through a terrible depression, and I want to learn how I can help others in the same situation. Because I’m burnt out with teaching, time to change direction. What do I have to offer? I’m not sure. I think my age will be an asset. I have lots of experience in working with teens and with women in church ministries—“
“Church? You’re a church person?”
I decided to cut right to the chase. “Yes, I guess you could say that. I’m a Christian, so church is an important part of my life.”
“Really. A Christian. That probably means you’re a social conservative who doesn’t much like government spending. It probably means you have a lot of wrong ideas about poor people, people of color, any marginalized people group, and social programs. You could be in trouble in this class. You sure you want to stay?”
He couldn’t have said anything that made me more determined not only to stay, but to excel. And he made me mad with his assumptions. “Sounds to me like you have a few wrong ideas of your own. Maybe I won’t be the only one getting an education. Are you sure YOU want to stay?”
There was dead silence as he stood in front of me, as he and I went eyeball to eyeball in a staring contest. Then he grinned. “Well played. I think this could be a real interesting semester.”
And it was.