Three years ago, when I was 25 and a newly-enrolled college freshman (yes, you read that right), it was obvious I was not your typical 18-year-old, carrying a sheaf of spiral notebooks and a fresh set of pens for her first day of classes.
But I don’t really have your typical life story, either.
When I was a fresh-faced 18-year-old, I was determined to study a quirky blend of musical theatre and religious studies, and then set my sights on Broadway.
The world of higher education, I envisioned, was going to be a magical world of “independence.” I could finally live on my own, have a social life, go to the kinds of parties I saw in teen movies and feel like a real adult.
I dreamed of getting a degree in the arts and becoming a teacher, a writer, an artist or an actress -- anything I set my mind to, really.
So how did I get to be a 25-year-old college freshman?
Life has a funny way of messing you up. You always think you know exactly how things will turn out, or how you’d like things to turn out. But crisis intervened, and my path became much more meandering and turbulent than I ever expected.
At 18, I awoke from a coma to see medical staff darting about, frantically trying to keep me alive. My first conscious memories were bits of sound and blurry sights, as I tried to piece together what happened to me.
I eventually learned from doctors that I would be in the ICU for an indefinite amount of time, and that their medical team had fought to save my life. The first thing I asked, in the most endearingly clueless way, was, “What about college?”
Starting From Square One
The answer to that was that college was out of the question.
Years of medical triumphs and setbacks followed, and this added up to a wealth of life experience. Always a creator and busy-body by nature, I went on to do more in my “sick” years than most people do in their lifetime.
I founded a chocolate business, wrote and starred in a one-woman show about my life, mounted art shows, taught nursery school and most importantly, felt alive. But something still felt empty.
What was it?
College. At 25 years old, I never received that degree I dreamed about. I had never even been to a Friday night, red plastic cup campus party.
I gained so much in the mean time, but I still felt like there was something I was missing out on. I knew it was something I would still need to accomplish.
When Is It Too Late?
So I thought, "Is it really too late?” Had I missed the boat?
Then, I thought of the practicalities. At 25, how was I going to feel surrounded by a bunch of 18-year-olds? How would I feel being on a campus for four years?
I had to think about what I wanted out of this experience. What did I want to gain from a college degree?
College certainly, at this point, wasn’t to stay busy or to get a job. I was hungry for a different kind of experience.
I simply wanted the opportunity to know what else was out there, to see what I had missed out on. I wanted to expose myself to diverse interests, meet people from all over and study subjects I didn’t even know existed.
College seemed like a huge, unknown realm of endless possibilities, where I could graduate with unexpected, newfound inspiration.
I asked myself, “If not now, when?”
When I couldn’t give a good enough answer, I knew it was time to start browsing colleges online. Then, it took a bunch of courage and getting past a lot of inertia to decide that, after years of an education in real life, I wanted to go through the entire college application process again.
Reflecting on what years of medical disappointments and frustrations had ultimately done to my spirit, I titled my essay, “Keeping Hunger Alive.”
A Dream Finally Becomes Real
How has it turned out?
I feel as though my vistas are much more boundless. In effect, I’ve reawakened and regenerated my thirst for knowledge.
I plan on graduating with a degree, but that’s not my main concern. What’s more important is that I’ve given myself the opportunity to be exposed to new ideas, people, subjects and stimulation. I’ve networked with career counselors, learned how to make a tattoo, met kids from other countries and (the best thing of all) I’ve put myself out there.
I’ve experienced even more highs and lows in the three years since I've started college. I’ve been frustrated by more disastrous surgeries, and have also been overjoyed by planning the wedding of my dreams.
I’ve shown myself that it’s never too late for anything. Even late bloomers bloom, and in the most beautiful spring colors.
Of course, there are also real-life matters to figure out as I finish my final two years of college.
As I'm getting married next month, I have to talk to my husband about how we will handle being apart while I continue my education. But I feel so lucky to have the chance to learn and get my education.
In my final poetry session at Hampshire, my professor used me as an example for the class.
I was the only one gabbing on and on about a poem, and he asked why more students didn’t volunteer their opinions. I responded, “Professor, I feel like a kid in a candy store going to college so late. If I had just been through 18 years of school and had to go right to college, I think it’s possible I wouldn’t give a hoot about what you're saying.”
What I was trying to articulate, I think, is that my long-delayed college student status had turned out to be a gift; far better, in fact, than if things had gone as I originally planned.
It’s true, I almost feel like I’m sneaking my hand into a big jar of candy, reaping the sweet rewards of learning from inspiring, amazing professors, students and ideas, while knowing that, as a teen, I probably would not have cared as much.
I’m so grateful for these forced “gap years.”
It’s better late than never. And sometimes, it’s just better late.