My sister Wen’s only eighteen months younger than I am. But to say that our paths greatly diverged once we graduated from high school (me in 1990, she in 1991) would be a huge understatement.
While I breezed through my BA (having already taken 6 credit hours in college-level English as a dual-credit high school kid), getting my degree at age 22, my sister was languishing in Developmental Studies and bad academic advisement.
While I barreled through my MA, getting that degree at age 24, my sister put aside her part-time pursuit of her Associate’s degree, quit her entry-level government job, got married, and moved to the southeast part of the United States — where she and her husband struggled financially for many years.
When I got my Teacher’s Certificate at age 27, my sister and her husband moved back to north Texas to recover from massive job loss, insurmountable debt, and other personal crises. Both of them tried to return back to college, but it was like starting all over again.
When I got my PhD at age 34 and soon after got my current teaching position, my sister’s marriage was on the verge of failure, and two years later her divorce was finalized. I don’t know if she just plain gave up on ever going back to school, but she rebounded — hard — with a pretty good man but who had equal amounts of marital, financial, and familial baggage as my sister’s.
And so when THAT relationship ended this fall — resulting in my sister moving out of their apartment and into my house — to say that her spirits and self-esteem were low would be another gigantic understatement.
I’m not a counselor — I’m only a Big Sister who also happens to be a mom and a college professor. But since my various degrees and certificates effectively helped me pursue the American Dream without too many setbacks (my own marriage notwithstanding), I could only offer one piece of authoritative advice:
Wen needed to get — finally — her Associate’s Degree.
She honestly believed that she had wasted her time, toiling sporadically in a community college for years upon years, sometimes attending another college, even paying big bucks to attend a for-profit university, which didn’t work out. I, in my incorrigible optimism, couldn’t accept that, and so I helped her get her various transcripts from these various schools.
I made a spreadsheet to keep track of these diverse courses, cross-referenced them to the requirements of getting an Associate’s degree, and discovered two things: 1) my sister had over 85 credit hours of transferable college-level coursework and yet 2) she hadn’t finished the Core Curriculum by only two — TWO — classes. If she just took those two classes, she would have her Associate’s degree.
Seeing my sister be happy — genuinely HAPPY — when she heard that just spurred me to see if she could take either of those classes ASAP. And so, that’s when, in a whirlwind of activity, I helped Wen get re-admitted in the college where she did most of her coursework, enroll in an intensive three-week/three long weekends GOVT 2302 class, and pay for her tuition and book.
(I did some research finding the easiest and most working-adult friendly Government instructor in our local community college district, and that class fit both criteria. Who says only students look at ratemyprofessor.com?)
She started that class on October 15, she took her Final Exam on October 31, and her grade was posted this evening. She passed!
So this WinterTerm, she will be taking another intensive course — this time a four-week Speech course offered entirely online. I had to do more research, looking for 1) another relatively easy professor, 2) a Speech class that didn’t entail actually speaking in front of people, and 3) a Speech class that worked with her work schedule.
Without too much trouble, I found it. As soon as early registration opens up, Wen will enroll in that class, I’ll help pay for the tuition and materials, and she’ll start class come December 13, she’ll finish on January 7, and she should be able to see her grade by the following week.
If everything works out, my younger sister will have her Associate in Science degree before the Spring 2011 semester begins.
No, she doesn’t plan to walk in the Spring graduation ceremony. But finally having that degree in hand — after a long, hard journey that began one care-free summer day in 1991 — will be sweeter than sweet.