The Voice: Spring 2003
Plumbline: A non-traditional student answers: Why am I here?
By: Kathy Harmelink
Do you have all your homework put together? How about your PE uniform?
Did you remember to put that in your bag, Jordan? Did you ask
what kind of calculator you need for math? Who is driving tomorrow, Josh?
I shoot out questions at my three sons, not even waiting for their
It is a school night and after only a few weeks of school,
we are still trying to get our evening routine together to avoid, or
at least attempt to avoid, chaotic morning rushes. I check on each boy
to make sure they are ready for the next day.
Jordan asks with a grin, How about you Mom? Do you need a
He just loves this chance to turn the tables on me, I can
tell. Tomorrow, after almost fifteen years of being out of the classroom, I
am heading back to college. I am a non-traditional part-time college student set on completing the degree I let go fifteen
years ago to be home with my then growing family.
The next morning finds me sitting in the back corner of a classroom.
Students stroll into the classroom in groups, chatting with their friends, waving or
yelling greetings to someone they havent seen over the summer and selecting their
seats. Most ignore me, but a few nod hello and quickly resume talking
to the other students around them. Looking around, I see kids only a
few years older than my son and suddenly feel like an alien in
a very strange land.
What in the world was I thinking? Im too old to do this.
I am almost old enough to be these kids mother. College is for
the young, not for old ladies like me.
I dont notice the professor walk into the class until everyone takes a
seat and only one person remains standing in the front. Now I know
that I dont belong here. The professor looks to be no older than
the students. Dressed in blue jeans and sandals, he is not like any
professor I remember from fifteen years ago.
Class begins and the professor hands out a syllabus for the course. As
I glance over the calendar for the class, I see several research papers,
tests and a group project that will all have to be completed during
the semester. Panic strikes as I frantically try to recall how to go
about doing research for a college-level paper. The syllabus mentions something called Lexis
and Ebsco for source material. The only Lexis I know is a car.
No, that is a Lexus. I have no idea what Ebsco is. I
am definitely in trouble here.
The professor distributes a stack of note cards.
Write your name, major, where you are from, and why you are in
this class on one of the cards, he instructs us.
OK, this I can handle. My nameI think I remember how to write
that. My majoryep, I can do that too. Im from Sioux Centergot that.
Why I am in this class. Hmmm, good question.
Its obvious by looking around that this class is not the normal next
step in my life. I am just about old enough to be my
classmates mother. I havent taken a test or written a research paper in
over fifteen years. I have no idea what Lexis and Ebsco are. After
years of wiping noses, taking care of a household, and working a few
different part-time jobs, why am I now adding a college class to my
already busy life?
I know that getting a college degree will help my job options. I
have always finished things that I have started and with my kids in
school full-time, I can take the time to finish my degree now. Those
are two good reasons for being in this classroom. But neither fully answers
the question of why I am here.
My son, who is in first grade, came home from school all excited
I met him at the door, Hi! How was school?
Neat. Did you know that if you rub a balloon over your hair,
your hair will stick out? We learned that today.
His shining eyes and wide grin told me that for him, school had
been fun that day. He was excited about what he had learned.
That is why I am sitting in this class. I want to rub
a balloon over my hair and be amazed when my hair sticks out.
I want the excitement, joy and challenge of learning something new. I want
to learn something today that I didnt know yesterday. I want to think
about something that I never thought about before. I want to talk about
things, stretch my mind and learn.
Im not a typical college student. I am older, hopefully a little wiser
and I know exactly why I am here.
I write two more words on the cardTo learn.