On Saturday morning I will be sitting in the audience with a few hundred or more other graduates as I accept my B.A. in Painting from Rhode Island College. It has been a long road to get to this point, and I have been taking some time to reflect on how I finally arrived to this point.
I graduated High School in 1995, a promising young artist who everyone else believed in, but she not in herself. I did what many promising young artists do, and I went to art school. Unfortunately I could not afford to go to college for more than one semester, and could not get grants or financial aid on my own, so I left school behind to work. I ended up in a job that while I loved being there, I think I became too comfortable being there. I left behind any notion of going back to school as I became more and more comfortable with the idea of “settling”. Both in my job, and my life. But then I decided it was time for a change. Just like that. I left the awful relationship I was in, and began the journey towards figuring out just who I was, and who I wanted to be.
I was always good in school, through high school. I could read my notes from my history class five minutes before class began, and then just blast through an exam. I hardly ever bothered with homework, because I never felt it necessary to to reinforce something I already knew. I even convinced a few of my high school teachers to ignore my lack of homework and take it into consideration that I was one of the only ones who participated in class. So yeah, school never really challenged me, except when it came to Art. Art was always something that was not bound by the rules or exactness of my other classes. Sure, there were rules to follow, but those rules were just a part of it. You had to fill the spaces in between. So I made the decision that as soon as I could get financial aid I would go back to school. For Art.
September 2001. It was a month I won’t forget for a couple reasons. It was the month I returned to school, but for most of us it was the month to remember for what happened on September 11th. I remember it as a beautiful day on campus. Blue skies, a slight breeze, and just gorgeous. Halfway through my first class of the day I go out to catch some air, and notice three messages from my father. I had no idea what had happened until my father told me. I wonder how many other students stood on campus that day, with their family members on the other line, breaking the news. So yeah, my new beginning at school was very interesting. But things settled down, and the semesters slowly passed. Then in 2002, I would take my next big step. I began volunteering at the Museum of Natural History in Providence. I loved it there so much, that I knew I wanted to work in a Museum. As it would happen a position as a Museum Educator would open up in early 2003, and I applied for and got the job! It was just what I needed. A place where each day was different. I could foster my love of science in a place I loved being. I could make a difference with kids. I continued my classes, and was supported by the Museum’s staff and especially its now Director, Renee. She was my biggest cheerleader for persevering with school, even when the classes weren’t available to me, and I had to take a semester off here and there.
And finding classes to fit in my schedule always seemed to be my biggest challenge. You see, when you are an art student, one of your 3-credit classes is actually 6 hours long, so to try to find classes that actually took place in the evening was damn near impossible, never mind trying to come up with the classes to add up to the 120 credits I needed in a timely fashion. And being an Art major is just not like being an English, Accounting, or History major. There’s the constant critiques (some which left me with smiles, others with tears). The doubt. And the supplies. Yeah, so your $100 textbook looks pretty damn good to me when I just spent $700 on paint, canvas, canvas stretchers, brushes, palette knives, thinner, etc…
The most memorable moment came one rainy day, as I walked from the Art Center with my 2-D portfolio and supplies slung over one shoulder, and my 3-D sculpture and supplies in the other arm. As I walk towards the parking lot, I approach a guy with his backpack on. He stops in front of me, points at all my “stuff” and says:
“And that’s why I’m majoring in Accounting.”
But I kept at it. I had a goal to reach. To finish school, and hopefully become Education Curator at the Museum. That opportunity is within reach right now, and I am eager to grab for it.
But I had another problem, staring me in the face. The mountain of student loans that I had been accumulating over these many years. I had done the part-time job thing before, and knew this wasn’t an option for me as a way to earn a second income. I wanted something my way, and on my time. My now-husband Ed was the one who told me to consider photography as that option. I had only done it as a hobby until that point, unsure I could turn it into something more. But I set forward to learn more, and hopefully I could make something more of my love of photography. It’s been four years since I set forth on that path, and I couldn’t be happier with how things have gone thus far.
So now I’m here. At the end of this long, rough journey. My cap, gown, and hood are hanging on the other side of the wall behind me in my art studio as I type this. On Saturday morning I will put it on, walk across that stage, and as my feet touch grass again at the bottom of the stairs on the other side of the stage I will stop for a second, and remember that I’m standing in the same area I was almost 11 years earlier, starting this journey. I will thank those who have believed in me. My husband. My family. Renee, and my other friends and coworkers. But then I will take a moment to thank myself. For not giving up on myself, when it would have been so damn easy to do, and just settle.
Those days are gone.
I have goals yet to reach.
My life starts now.