Roughly 12 years ago, I was working two jobs and going to community college full time to earn my AAS in Paralegal Studies. I was living at home and borrowing my sister’s extra car. It was the lowest point of my life.
When my ex-husband had an affair, I immediately decided to divorce him. I had gathered all of the paperwork I thought would be relevant. I placed everything in a nice folder with a table of contents so my attorney wouldn’t have to ask me for one thing. I had even made a table of all of our joint accounts, current balances, and minimum payments. When I arrived at my appointment, I handed him the folder and he said, “Do you need a job because I am willing to hire you right now.”
I kind of laughed it off, but he was absolutely serious. He told me, “You would be a really good paralegal. If you decide to stay in Washington, I’ll give you a job.”
I ended up moving back home to Texas living on $1,000/month alimony. I couldn’t even qualify for public assistance because my dad made too much money. Even though my dad was only providing a place to live, his income counted against me. I had really no where to turn. I didn’t really have a plan and really needed one. That’s when I saw the local community college offered a paralegal degree, and so started my journey. Not out of passion, but out of necessity. I needed a way to support us.
When I finally graduated, I was too exhausted to care about walking at a ceremony. For one, it was “just” an associate’s degree. Secondly, I didn’t have the energy to care. Third, I already had a job. Logically, it made no sense for me to make a big deal about receiving an associate’s degree. In my head, my education was nothing to celebrate. Rather, it was something to be ashamed of. I didn’t graduate from a four-year university. I wasn’t going to be greeted with six-digit salaries. I wasn’t going to be called nurse, or doctor, or lawyer, or engineer, or teacher. No. I got an associate’s degree that would earn me $12/hour.
Fast forward 12 years.
I am at a point in my life where I am realizing that associate’s degree did more for me than most people’s bachelor’s degree. As I look at how many of my peers are just now paying off their student loans, or how they are not even in a career field in the same area they graduated in, it began to dawn on me that it was time to change my perspective.
For 12 years, that associate’s degree from that no-name community college brought me a stable career. I’ve been at the same law firm for 12 years working for two of the best attorneys one could hope for. They’ve treated me well, supported me in my times of need, and supported my career. If I need something, they have never hesitated to buy it for me. If I needed to take a continuing education class, they never hesitated to pay for it. If I needed to go to a seminar, they allowed me to miss work to do it. I have a lot to be thankful for.
It is easy to not recognize your privilege. There are a lot of people around me that are struggling in dead-end jobs because they can’t afford to go to college or trade school to pursue a better life for themselves. I’m kind of disappointed in myself for turning a life-changing event into something so negative. No matter what level of higher education you go to, it is a privilege.
A few weeks ago, I made the decision to go back to school. While I may no longer be so dismissive about my degree, I do still feel very incomplete. I want to go back and finish my bachelor’s degree. To start the process, I applied back to the community college to get my feet wet. I wanted to take a few classes just to see if I can still keep up. The university I am going to transfer into will take 90 credit hours, so I wanted to max as many credits as I could.
Once I got registration completed and my degree plan chosen, I received an e-mail: Congratulations on your academic achievement! Please apply for graduation.
I have been sitting on another associate’s degree for over a decade. I never knew that I had enough credits to apply for a second associate’s degree.
So, in May, as long as the world finds its way back to normalcy, I will graduate with an Associate of Arts in General Studies. This time, I will make plans to actually walk and accept my achievements, even if they are a decade too late. Then, I will make my way to Texas A&M Central Texas where I will, once again, be a warrior (my high school mascot was a warrior, too) and finish my education.
The plan is to complete my Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies where I will minor in English, Business Management, and Fine Arts. If all goes according to plan, I will graduate in 1.5 years.
I know that you can’t stop moving and expect growth. I have stayed rather dormant the last 12 years and I know that if I ever lost this job, I am not marketable the way I currently am. It is important to constantly keep moving forward, so that is what I am going to do. Is it the degree I want? To be honest, no. But to be even more honest, I really don’t have a specific degree I want to work toward. I know this degree puts together a few minors to show I have a general education, and I think for my age, this is better than nothing.
So, there you have it. In May, I’ll be a graduate for a second time, and in roughly two years, I’ll be a graduate for a third time. If all goes well…