Finish What I Started
I graduated high school in 1992. I had desire, passion and a goal. I wanted to be a college professor. The only thing I considered was where I’d teach. Graduating, getting a few advanced degrees and becoming a professor were all forgone conclusions. If only life had played out as it did in my head.
The list of schools I applied to was very short. I remember getting into all of them, but that could be hindsight and hubris talking. I’m pretty sure it isn’t though. My first choice was DePaul University in Chicago. I loved their computer science program. I loved the idea of living downtown. I loved the idea of being in the city. To say I was excited would be a gross understatement of how happy I was.
I filed my grant and financial aid paperwork. I applied for on campus housing. I registered for classes. The summer of my graduation flew by terribly quickly. I spent some time with my best friend Jason in Florida. I got my first (and last for a long time) kiss before I left for school. [that may be a story for another day] I got my room assignment and found out I’d be in a dorm with two roommates; Shane and Kevin.
It was time to move away to school and my parents couldn’t make the trip. I packed what I needed, hopped a plane and my grandfather took me downtown to find my dorm and see the campus. What seemed surreal a few months earlier was now just my reality. Making friends, finding a job and playing around in Chicago were the easy parts. I wasn’t prepared to be a grown up or be a college student. I was ok playing a fraction of the role.
I never thought the aceademic part of college was particularly difficult. Learning has never been my problem. Doing the work needed to stick around was. I toyed with being a college student and ended up with a less than stellar GPA after my first two semesters. I wasn’t in danger of being suspended or put on probation, but I wasn’t doing as well as I thought I should be. I wasn’t doing as well as my dad expected. I was going through the motions of being a college student. I was doing a poor job of it, too.
My dad transferred to Hawai’i during my freshman year at DePaul and I followed along the following summer. I took the opportunity to tuck my tail between my legs and leave school. I was giving up. To the outside world, I was taking a golden opportunity to live in Hawai’i rent free for a few years and attend the University of Hawai’i. The official story is never the real story.
I really did move to Hawai’i. I really did go to UH. I really did enjoy myself immensely in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I wasn’t any closer to my goal, but I was doing something. Who cared if it wasn’t terribly productive? I finished all of my pre-requisite classes at Leeward Community College and head to the main UH campus. Cue the next convenient excuse. My dad retired. My parents broke up. My grandfather from earlier in the story passed away after a bout with cancer. The hard thing would have been to stay in Hawai’i and grow up. I moved home to Chicago to be with my mom and niece.
I got a job and never went back to school.
I’ll spare you the boring details about moving around the country, keeping jobs for no more than 18-24 months and getting married twice. Who wants to hear about that? Fast forward 13 years from 1996 to 2009. I was finally in a place where I’d let myself consider going back to school. I found an online college that provided real degrees. A quick application later, I was accepted at the University of Maryland as a Computer Science major. I took a few classes. Never really finished any of them. Blamed my travel schedule. Blamed my place in life. Blamed my criminology book getting stolen from my checked bag. I privately blamed myself for not following through with yet another big plan in life. I left UM as quietly as I started UM. poof.
While chatting with my wife in the car a few months ago, I made a flippant remark about becoming a sociologist. That would satisfy my need to know and understand people. We shared a good laugh. I couldn’t get that out of my head. What if there was some validity to my desire to become a sociologist? What if that’s what I wanted to teach? What if that’s who I want to be when I grow up?
When I thought about this new plan for my life, I wasn’t filled with worry or fear. I was filled with a great sense of purpose. I bought a book for my Kindle to research what exactly sociologists do. I was fascinated and intrigued. I wanted to know more. I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
This story started 20 years ago when I applied to DePaul. This story takes place in a world where I applied to the same school 20 years later. I’m a Blue Demon again. I’m just as excited this time, as I was last time. The difference? I think I’m finally ready to be a grown up. I applied the first time because of where the school was, what the world said about its computer science school and what I thought I wanted to be. This time? I want to finish what I started. I want to be who I was meant to be. I want to finally grow up.
I think I’m ready. I’ve found the person I want to be with for the rest of my life, after a few false starts. We’ve been together for 3 1/2 years and are as happy today as we were when we met. I’m a week shy of being with my current company for 4 years and I have no intention of leaving. I own a home and bought my first new car on my own. I have an awesome niece that lives with me now and is doing really well. I’m step-dad to the coolest 5 year old ever. Last, but certainly not least, I’ve been an actual dad to the best thing to ever happen to me.
I’m still not a grown up, but I think I’m getting there. More importantly, I’m finally in a place where I want to finish what I started 20 years ago. The coolest thing? I get the chance to finish it where it started, not in spirit but in reality. This makes me immensely happy.