Friday, August 24, 2012

Phrase of the Day: BACK TO SCHOOL

It is that time of year once again, when parents and students alike are preparing for the new school year.  No doubt the new school year ahead is invoking a myriad of emotions, from excitement to dread.  It is a time of both the known and unknown.

I remember when I was in elementary school, which included kindergarten, and what the end of August was like.  It was the annual trip to the store to get school supplies and, as I was in parochial (Catholic) school that had a dress code, any new dress shirts, dress pants, or ties I might need.  It was exciting for me, seeing all the new pens, pencils, notebooks -- they were called "composition books" with a black-and-white marble-looking cover -- and other supplies from which I could choose.  I wasn't crazy about the clothes part, however.  Having to try on pants, and maybe needing to get them hemmed, was my least-favorite part of this pre-school year ritual.

By the time I reached high school -- there were no middle schools then, just 1st through 8th grades, then on to high school -- this pre-school year time was still somewhat exciting for me.  Even though I knew my wish that Summer vacation would last longer would never come true, the shopping element was a reminder of new beginnings...including one final reminder that I had, indeed, made it through the previous school year.  (I needed that reminder.  More on that in a moment.)

By the time I had reached college, everything was much more "business-like" and matter-of-fact.  So, it was get this, this, and this...make sure I have that, that, and that.  College was the first time I was not attending a parochial school and the dress code was much more relaxed (i.e. no dress shirts or ties required, jeans were acceptable) than what I had known for the previous thirteen years. 

Now, back to what I mentioned earlier about my needing a reminder that I had made it through the previous school year.  When I began my postgraduate studies, and all throughout that time, I never imagined myself being able to finish.  Self-confidence has never been a strong suit of mine.  You would think, after my final paper was handed in, and my final class had ended that it would sink in.  It didn't.

I remember the commencement ceremony from when I finished my postgraduate studies.  While my fellow graduates and I were lined up, ready to process in, one of my fellow graduates, David, could see the look on my face and came over to me.  Here's how the brief exchange between us went.
David: "Are you all right?"
Me: "I'm just afraid."
David: "Of what?  Being in front of everybody?"
Me: "No.  That I'm going to wake up."
David: "It's real, brother.  It's real."
After all papers were handed in, all classes were finished, and even the commencement ceremony was over, I still didn't believe it until I received the diploma in the mail.

I cognitively knew that I had done the three years of study and had completed all requirements necessary to graduate, but I never believed that I could do all that.  At that moment, it was the known and the unknown converging.  (It was more like colliding.)  I cannot say that my self-confidence has risen dramatically to an enormously more constructive level, but it is far better than it was.  My decades of poor self-identity regarding how smart I was, at least in terms of formalized education, was finally shattered.

I remember the words of the woman who served at the time as Director of Admissions during her speech at the beginning of our time there: This is not the beginning of your journey; it is the continuation of your journey.  Very true.  To that extent, all of my time before my postgraduate studies, during my studies, and all of my time since then, including my sitting at my keyboard typing this, has been part of my journey. 

That reminds me of an old adage: "You learn something new every day."  While I cannot say that I am aware of learning something new every single day of my life, learning is an on-going, lifelong process.  To any readers of this who are younger and in the midst of their schooling, that might seem depressing.  It's not, though.  Going to school is formalized education and life is informal education, but both are education nonetheless.  I would also add this as advice: Be open to the lessons in the classroom as well as outside the classroom.  I have learned you need both.

I can remember telling a former neighbor of mine in the apartment complex where I was living at the time who was a med student -- and this was long before I ever entertained the idea of attending a postgraduate school -- that we both had classrooms.  Hers were in the school, and mine was outside my front door.  Learning can happen anywhere at any time.

One final thought: When I lived on campus during my postgraduate studies, I hung just a few things on my walls.  (Apparently, I was told that I was in line with bachelors who live alone...their walls are usually sparsely covered.)  One thing I had hanging up on my wall was a sign that really sums up my life.  Here's what it read:

"I am a full-time student in the course of Continuing Education at the School of Life."


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