Thursday, June 18, 2009

Returning Women Stories

(originally posted 03/08 at wordpress)


by Blythe Pavlik


I am a woman who has orbited the “real world” for many moons and returned… returned to a place where I can tap into the wealth of knowledge that is abundant within the academy. I have returned to myself, the self within me that is wise, worthy and abundant.

I am also a woman who hesitated. I believed that my poor scholastic achievement in high school was somehow a reflection of my value as a person. I believed that normalcy was achieved by conforming to the system… and that normalcy was ideal. I believed that my social awkwardness was a character flaw. In trying to remain part of the dominant culture, I sabotaged my voice and my own way… and spent the better part of twelve years hesitating. It was the culmination of a glass ceiling that seemed to be getting lower in spite of my years of experience, exhaustion from trying to prove my worth in jobs that made money keeping me worthless, and a sense of self-betrayal – that had me finally contemplating college. I registered a couple times and never followed through. I was terrified that college would be a repeat of high school and that my quivering self-esteem would shrivel completely if I failed in college. I began to examine the word “failure” and the heavy associations I had to the word. I questioned if my high school failings were all mine finally realizing that it wasn’t me that had failed – it was the system that had failed me. Refusing to meet me on my level and encourage my own unique voice… To the system, low achievers are invisible.

I was also fearful that my age would prove to be a limitation in college. I imagined an automatic divide between myself and students coming into college directly from high school. I imagined a divide that would only widen when their youth contrasted with my experience.

I began college in the fall of 2004, taking two courses I thought I would enjoy. I refused to consider myself a “college student” and refrained from making a diploma my goal. I needed to move into the process slowly, feel it out and see if I could do it. I felt raw and vulnerable. I had imagined such a dark fate for myself inside the walls of the academy. I imagined myself as a perpetually untapped wealth of good intentions, stunted and unable to grow beyond the projected limitations of the system. I was terrified.

Prior to enrolling in school, I underwent a complete social transformation. Transformation is a very positive word often used to describe devastating but necessary happenings. After subconsciously orchestrating my blunt rejection from a primary social circle, I reclaimed time and energy to examine my goals, dreams and the paths that would lead me to fulfill each and every aspiration. My aspirations had been stifled for twelve years under doubt, fear and loyalty to my role as a goodhearted underachieving co-dependent. Now suddenly, I was orbiting space alone… I had a new sense of anonymity and was flushed with the motivation to expand beyond the WHO I had assumed myself to be.

I was amazed by school. I was amazed by my ability to perform well and the lack of divisiveness between myself and younger students. The first term inspired a second and a third. Eventually, I quit my full-time, directionless job and became a full-time college student. Over the course of the last four years, I have embraced social relationships that have supported and encouraged me. This network of people has been vital to my success in school as they have helped me relinquish limitations and aspire to my dreams. School has become a place where my self-esteem has been restored, my voice honored and fine-tuned and my unique path, valued.

I became a volunteer with the Women’s Resource Center in January of this year and have since become aware of just how important returning women are to the PSU landscape and to the world. Returning women bring life experience to college. We bring sage voices polished by academia. We are role models for our daughters and friends. Our stories carry dimension, flavor and real world relevance. We have been co-dependants, sacrificing our dreams so that others might have a better view. We have been pressed into habitual thinking by society which has kept us from taking a chance at reaching for our own stars. And now… we walk in our own shoes towards a life better lived through minds expanded with new ideas and filled with creativity.

I have one more year before I graduate with a BS in Communication. The year will swim by quickly and I will soon be walking down the aisle as my name is called out by a scholar. I will reach out my hand and accept a piece of paper that has both trivial and vast importance. It is not the paper that credits me with a job well done; my experience will speak to that. The paper and the ceremony will simply serve as a stepping stone into the next stage of life. This ceremonial moment will offer me a chance for me to look back, in reflection, at the fears I have conquered and the dreams I have begun to make real. It is a chance to give myself credit – my success is immeasurable by “the system.” The success is mine alone to garner.

I am proud to be a woman who has returned to college and proud to be in the company of so many other amazing women who have ventured back into the academy with stories much more challenging than my own. When I turned to face the academy in 2004, a new light began to shine inside of me. Hope replaced doubt and curiosity replaced fear. I took it slow and honored my hesitant steps. And now, fully emerged in the college experience, I run towards my dreams with the confidence and skills to bring my dreams to life.

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