I took a biology class at SVSU a few years ago to fulfill a general education requirement. It met twice per week at 8 a.m., and included a lab component. I hated it. But I passed the class, and celebrated like crazy when the semester ended. NO MORE SCIENCE FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!
…Or so I thought. Two years later, I transferred to Wayne State, and learned that the biology class I’d taken was among those that wouldn’t be recognized by my new degree program. I was told to take another science class with a lab.
I was crushed. And angry. I asked if there was any way I could get out of it. After all, I’d already paid for the class and done the work. But I was told, year after year by adviser after adviser, that the class was “probably just still under review” by some kind of committee.
Still, I kept coming back– partly because I was hopeful, but also because I resented the fact that I was expected to prove myself all over again.
Finally, after yet another visit to the advising office earlier this week, I got an email telling me that the class I took at SVSU will indeed fulfill WSU’s science / lab requirement. I’m officially off the hook.
I’m not used to fighting and winning. Or fighting at all, for that matter. And I think this signifies a very big shift in my personality. It epitomizes what I have come to expect of myself and of my college experience. I’m finally learning–after more than five years as an undergraduate–to own it.
I will (finally!) be graduating in about a year or so. I couldn’t be more proud of myself. Until recently, graduating was an “if” rather than a “when” for me. And that is a dangerous mentality to have– not that I blame myself for holding onto it for so long.
Not only am I a first generation college student, I’m also a first generation American. My dad is from Poland, and my mom is from Canada; neither of them are native English speakers. But despite their lack of education, they raised me in a suburb full of mostly white collar families. My classmates’ parents had been to college and expected their children to go as well. My peers’ lives were much more structured than mine: they came home from school, did their homework, and participated in extracurricular activities. I, meanwhile, was free to do whatever I pleased. My parents did not enroll me in extracurriculars, and didn’t think to look through my backpack to see what kind of homework I had. Because I was just a kid, they thought I ought to spend my after-school time playing outside.
And that I did. We had a tree in our front yard that was perfect for climbing. I practically lived in it. And that, of all places, is where I discovered my love of reading. I’d bring books with me up into the tree, so as not to get bored. It was the absolute best way to spend my afternoons / evenings. And when my mom made me come inside to get ready for bed, I’d sit in my room, writing stories of my own.
I drove my teachers nuts, because although I clearly loved books, I never did my homework. They thought I was lazy, but I don’t agree. I kept my mind and body active. It’s just that no one had ever explained to me that school was important. My parents, meaning well, had told me that school was my job. But my dad, a self-proclaimed “shop rat,” hated his job. So I came to think of school as something I had to drag myself through each day in order to get home to my tree and my books.
In middle school, I was lucky to have an English teacher who recognized my talent for writing and gave me ample opportunities to share it with others. When I was in the eighth grade, I had a poem published for the first time, and was invited to attend a young authors’ luncheon in Grand Rapids. I won a national essay contest as well. And when the school year ended, I was presented with an achievement award from the English Department. I still have the plaque in my room: AMELIA GLEBOCKI, OUTSTANDING ENGLISH STUDENT, 2003.
Having teachers who believed in me was what finally led me to think that maybe school was something I could enjoy and excel at. I went on to take AP English in high school, and serve as editor-in-chief of the student art & literary magazine. I continued to publish my writing, and traveled around, competing in poetry slams.
I decided to go to college for two reasons: 1) As a high school senior in 2007, society pretty much expected me to. And 2) I had an interest to pursue. I enrolled at SVSU as a creative writing major. I chose SVSU because it was (comparatively) inexpensive, just far enough away from my hometown that I’d have to move out of my parents’ house to enroll, and also, a school that no one else from my high school had chosen to attend. Plus, it was located in a Mid-Michigan cornfield, which, I imagined, would make me feel a little less awkward about my working class roots.
Having lived it, I firmly believe that one’s college experience should contain a shitstorm of crazyness and growth. You shouldn’t graduate the same person you started out as. But as nice and cute and romantic as that all sounds, the transformation itself is no picnic.
I won’t get into all the reasons why I decided to leave SVSU without a diploma. But, long story short, I developed interests other than creative writing, and was hesitant to pursue them because until that point, creative writing was the only thing I truly believed myself capable of succeeding at. I was scared shitless, and it was a bad time to be scared shitless, because there was all this other stuff happening around me that I had to be strong for. My friend’s six-year-old daughter drowned. A couple of my friends (who were my age) lost their parents. Another friend’s house burned down. I came to terms with my sexuality, and came out as a lesbian. For a zillion different reasons (some of which are too personal to include here), 2009 was a terrible, crazy, weird, intense year for me and people I cared about.
I wanted to get far, far away from all of it.
So I transferred. And for a long time, I considered that decision to be one of my biggest failures. I’ve never told anybody that. But the way I saw it, after three years on my own, I’d come crawling back to my parents’ house, having pretty much given up on the only thing I’d ever really cared about.
And that–for those who keep asking–is why it’s taken me so damn long to graduate. I didn’t transfer because I thought it was a good idea to stay in school. I transferred because I needed to get the hell out of Saginaw ASAP and knew that dropping out would be a huge embarrassment.
I spent my first year at Wayne State feeling sorry for myself. I lived and worked in the suburb I’d grown up in, so didn’t have much spare time to spend on campus, getting to know people. I took women’s studies classes because they interested me, but, lacking the kind of mentor I’d had in middle school, had no idea where to direct my energy. And given that I was twenty-two, not twelve, I was expected to be doing something constructive with it. I couldn’t turn to my family for advice, because they’d never been to college. And I was afraid to talk to anyone at school about it, because I didn’t really know anyone.
And then last fall I met Kaitlyn. She, like me, is majoring in English and women’s studies. But unlike me, she seems 100% comfortable with the fact that it’s taking her so long to graduate.
The difference between us, I’ve realized, is that by changing her mind as many times as she has (she started at an acting school in New York City, then attended a community college before transferring to Wayne State), she has brought herself closer and closer to what’s best for her. I, meanwhile, I’ve always felt like I was running from something– my k-12 classmates, Saginaw, etc.
For someone who spent her childhood reading in a tree, I sure do need people to help me feel connected to what I’m doing.
But the important thing is that I’m doing, finally, for the first time in a long time. And better yet, people are taking notice. I got an email from an SVSU professor that I’ve kept in touch with since transferring, in which she said, “Your voice sounds much firmer and more in control when you talk about your course of study these days. I’m so happy to read that! You seem to have found your cause and to zero in on all the right questions. That is wonderful! You’re still a writer; you’re just doing the essay.”
Regardless of my justification for any of the decisions that I have made, being the first person on either side of your family to go to college is hard. Transferring–especially to a school that’s a lot bigger than the one you previously attended–is hard. Figuring out how to pay for it all is hard. Moving back in with your parents after three years on your own is hard. Watching your friends graduate, but not graduating with them, is hard.
But I haven’t dropped out. And the end is finally in sight. So I think it’s about damn time I give myself some credit for that.
I’m not saying that I didn’t have support. I certainly did. My parents supported me in all the ways they knew how– most notably by letting me live with them rent-free when I transferred to Wayne State. And because of how passionate I’ve always been about reading and writing, many of my friends are ambitious English nerds with graduate degrees. So despite my status as a first generation college student, I have great resources that I could tap into.
But until recently, I haven’t, because I really honestly didn’t think that I deserved to– I’ve believed, all my life, that I just couldn’t touch certain things. Extracurricular activities were for kids whose parents had lots of money; college scholarships were for kids who excelled academically in all kinds of fields– not just that silly, artsy one. My parents never hounded me about doing my homework as a kid, and they never hounded me about going to college.
So ultimately, this whole crazy journey has been entirely up to me. Even though it’s taking me forever and a year, I’m immensely proud of myself. Because I’ve grown and changed and have the scars to show for it.
And I am going to walk out of it with a college degree. And not only that, I’ll be the first member of my family to do so. I don’t care what anyone says– that’s nothing short of badass.