I never thought going back to graduate school, the step I meant to take back in 2004 but got pushed back due to landing a dream job and adding members to my now perfectly formed family, would start with Morgan Freeman. "My Academic Advisor told me to watch Lean on Me, it is going to be part of an early assignment" I said to my husband as we sat down after getting our kids to bed.
"You mean, like the song you sang to our kids every night for two years, on repeat, until they slept?" He responded. As I sat in my living room, fresh and clean only because everyone else was sleeping, pen poised over a fresh notebook, I felt like a fraud. How does one even write notes on a movie you’ve watched for fun and enjoyment tens of times in the past?
I watched the film, I wrote notes, and I started my Master’s in Public Administration and Public Policy introductory course Introduction to Public Administration and the Policy Process, afraid that everyone would know I was the consummate mid-level professional, and in no way a perfect candidate to push beyond that self-proscribed title. I struggled to remember how to be a student, and tried to channel the person I was when I graduated college twelve years ago. Week 1 I earned a 75% on the first assignment. The last time I had seen a score that low on my work was in the third grade on a handwriting test. I emailed my professor, I talked to my husband, I re-watched Lean on Me to identify the weaknesses, and started to wonder what I was doing with my life, and why I ever decided to go back to school in the first place.
The answer was so obvious it was hard to find at first. I couldn’t be the student I was 12 years before, nor should I want to be. I now had years serving as a director in nonprofit organizations, working to eradicate homelessness, preventing hospital dumping of the indigent, and providing support to children whose parents are poor. I also had three years of working in higher education, navigating the complex world of federal grant compliance. I wasn’t the Magna Cum Laude star from 2004, I was better. The first first twelve years of professional experience had finally revealed a degree program that would move my career forward, my first nine years of parenting and revealed I was more than capable of handling a demanding workload while balancing career, family and school.
In week two I started to overlay all of our readings with my real world experience. I tied specific pages of text to days of my life, experiences in the office, moments where I wish I could have channeled Lean on Me’s main character and gone all Principal Joe Clark on the job; the process worked. Suddenly, instead of seeing my years between undergraduate and graduate studies as a liability, I saw them as the key to becoming a student of value in this program. I used my work experience to breathe life into my studies, and my studies made me feel more confident in the office. I even started singing Lean on Me to the kids again, if only as a salute to the power of a good intro assignment.
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