I used to think that I had blown my chance to go to university when I mucked up at high school and failed a subject in my final year. I used to think that university was only for brilliant people...what I learned is that university is for anyone who is willing to work hard and not give up.
It's amazing how chance encounters can ultimately be life-changing events. Some years ago when I had been a home-schooling mum and wife for quite a long time, I noticed an advert in a local paper for a course at the local Lifeline branch to become a volunteer phone counselor. I was interested right away and contacted the office to find out more. There was a stumbling block. The course cost more than I could afford at the time. I was so excited by the idea of doing the course that I managed to borrow enough to do it. It was way more challenging and demanding than I had naively imagined and I had to consider my personal history and learn many new skills in order to be deemed suitable for the onerous task of listening to and guiding people in a range of distressing situations.
The best thing about doing the course was the beautiful people I met - both the participants and the trainers. One of the trainers was an older woman who talked about her studies at university. She was doing a degree in counselling. Meeting her proved to be the catalyst in a series of events that changed my life. I along with others was invited to attend her graduation ceremony, and I was thrilled to see a number of 'mature aged' graduates among the young ones. Suddenly a world of possibilities opened to me although I didn't act on it straight away. A couple of years later when I left my marriage, the thought of going to uni returned and I made inquiries after seeing an advert for a bridging course (university skills) at the Bundaberg campus of CQUniversity. After meeting, again by chance, with an old friend from sailing days, and learning that she had recently done a degree and then a master's degree, I thought about applying and jumping straight into studying for a Bachelor Degree. I spoke with the coordinator of the university skills program and she advised that doing the bridging program would equip me with skills such as academic writing and an understanding of university culture which would make the degree much easier to manage. In retrospect I would say she was right and I'm grateful for that advice.
I filled in the application form and wrote an essay describing where I saw myself in five years' time. It was the first time in my life that I'd thought that far ahead. Soon the good news arrived - I had been accepted into the course. I was so excited and I felt like I was coming home when I walked into the university for the first time as a student. I loved so much about it all but I was to be stretched in ways I could never have imagined. It was not 'smooth sailing' as I was often distracted by things going on in my personal life. I battled with low self-esteem and couldn't accept the good grades I was getting. I crazily thought the lecturers were just being nice to me. It took me five years at uni to complete my Bachelor of Learning Management. I was pushed out of my comfort zone over and over again. I baulked and dug my heels in and thought about walking away because it was all too hard. I started doing a Bachelor of Learning Management Primary then pulled out and studied Literary and Cultural studies for one semester before continuing. I did six more courses than most people because I couldn't make up my mind what I really wanted to do!
I certainly didn't get to the end all under my own steam; I had support and encouragement from peers and from the wonderful lecturers and other staff at the university I was also encouraged and helped by my children and my parents who all wanted me to see this through to the end as long as it would make me happy to do so. They knew I would be disappointed in myself if I'd walked away. I was so fortunate to have people who cared enough to push me to grow when I wanted to give up. One of the most difficult things was learning to work in groups. It was something that most of us struggled with as our prior education had taught us to be independent and we didn't really know how to share information or negotiate workloads or responsibilities. It was new ground for many of us and there were many times where people were at loggerheads. Sometimes it was because there were too many strong leaders in a group and sometimes it was that someone was not doing their part and others felt let down. It's tough to learn to be a professional. I humbly give thanks to my peers who put up with my struggles!
How grateful I am to have met the fabulous women who opened my mind and showed me what is possible, even if you don't get started until later in life. I'm grateful also to my fellow students were a constant source of inspiration as they dealt with a wide range of life challenges outside of study. I graduated at 52 and have never felt prouder or more relieved. I continue to grow and learn every day.
As a teacher I have the opportunity to positively impact the lives of small children and their families by encouraging play-based learning and healthy life choices. I love what I do and it was so worth that long hard journey. To friends out there who are thinking or dreaming about embarking on study (at any age) I can only say "Do it!!" and "Good luck!!" I really don't think you'll ever regret it. If someone like me (a chronic procrastinator and one who is distracted by the slightest interruption AND who had an 'eat dessert first' philosophy on life) can do, then so can you!
Dreams can come true if you work hard and never give up (and can accept a little help from your friends)!
PS I did work for Lifeline as a volunteer phone counselor for two years and also helped with training new people later on. It was a wonderful experience and I would recommend it even if you don't end up going on the phones, as it's a great opportunity for personal growth.