I had a panic attack the night before last.
I realized I had missed the 10th anniversary of my college graduation. And I couldn't remember the exact date, so I wanted to find my diploma, triggering my panic. Where the heck did I put that?
This accomplishment actually was a really special moment for me. Not only was I just the second person in my family to graduate from college at the time (to the best of my knowledge), but it took me 11 years, three schools across two states, and a break for a baby to make it happen. And I overcame some major obstacles to get it done.
My first attempt at a Bachelor's Degree was a complete failure. I was never encouraged to go to university, and when I made it to the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point (my ONLY submission), I was woefully underprepared for the challenges it would present. I had no role models to turn to. I had zero dollars for books. I wanted to get a job, but then I how would I do university shows? I quickly became depressed. And, frankly, I may have partied too much due to my new found freedom.
I finally went to a counselor and explained my situation, then asked for an excused leave of absence. She said I should tough it out. I told her I was leaving with or without her approval, it's just that her approval would make it easier. Again she refused.
Hence a 0.00 GPA my first semester out of the gate.
After moving back home for a year and a half, through a network of friends I ended up at Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. Having not yet lost my sense of adventure (and no money), I moved by Greyhound. 30-plus hours and one broken down bus in Grand Junction, Colorado, later - I made it. And I did well my first year. The University was gracious to expunge my first semester at UWSP, giving me a clean slate. And they emancipated me for better financial aid. I made some excellent new friends. Got a job that provided tuition reimbursement (telemarketing, what a glorious nightmare). Pulled in decent grades. But self doubt started to creep in.
In December of 1999, I was thrilled to audition and accept a student acting intern position on the Utah Shakespeare Festival's Taming of the Shrew Educational Tour. Their sixth tour and first attempt at comedy. 75 shows. 5 states. I was 21 years old at the time and had the ABSOLUTE BEST TIME OF MY LIFE. But as I was a student intern, I still had homework to do during those two and a half months. Some I did. Mostly I didn't. And my grades suffered. With no parent or role model to call for support, this horse ran free.
And now that I was going to be a famous Shakespearean actor, who needed school anyway?
In the summer of 2000, I worked as a wench serving tarts and coffee - my self doubt got the better of me so I didn't actually audition for Utah's summer season. And come that fall I decided to take a break from school. In retrospect, both were really bad decisions. One because I hadn't even given myself a chance, and the other completely isolating me from my college community. My roommate at the time was off on a gig, so I spent many, many hours alone. And depression sank right back in.
So I met a nice Wisconsin boy on Christmas vacation, moved home, had a baby, and that's the end of the story.
Well not really. I was lost and looking for direction and purpose. And I FELT like a failure. Some terrible, young, female, non-ingenue actor nobody wanted. "Well, fine then. I give up. Normal life it is for me." But then, of course, it couldn't be as Aurora was born with a partial trisomy of the 16th chromosome. Way outside of "normal." I stayed home, miserable, with what was likely undiagnosed postpartum depression, and tried to be the best mom I could to my girl with very special needs.
By the end of 2003, I got the ultimatum from Aurora's dad: "Go back to school or I will." Well. Okay. I think I can? I was terrified of failure (yet again), but I gathered my transcripts and applied to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, just a few blocks from home. I was excepted, and started classes the fall of 2004 at 26 years old. The "Non-Traditional Student," if you will.
Dammit I was going to finish this time. No joking. That damn B.A. was mine.
In the spirit of getting it done, about half of the semesters from 2004-2007 I overloaded on credit hours and also took summer school. I had to. I was double majoring in Theatre and Political Science and wanted to finish before I hit 30. There was a great daycare on campus as UW-Oshkosh is (was?) the largest commuter and non-traditional student campus in the state of Wisconsin. (See, I wasn't alone!) Aurora's dad or I would drop her off where she needed to be in the morning, I would go to school during the day, pick up Aurora after, go home for dinner, then back to campus for whatever play or student film project I was cast in, then home for homework. Get up. Do it over again. For three years.
And somewhere toward the end of that, for about nine months during a family rough patch, I started helping out my mom and youngest sister (still in high school at the time), eventually taking over my sister's guardianship after I graduated. At times then, I had to drive her up to school in the morning 30 minutes away, and then my routine would begin. None of this would at all have been possible without the support of Aurora's dad and his family, of course. And I am forever grateful for that.
After entering UW-Oshkosh with a 2.3 GPA, I received almost all straight A's (one B-, due a Biology instructor so awful she was let go after my semester; and one A-, which I will never let my favorite PoliSci teacher down from).
I yanked my average all the way up to Cum Laude.
It's amazing what one can do when they set their mind to something. But as I lay there in bed the other night, and I don't remember how the date became so relevant, but it was like a smack in the face. YOU. MISSED. YOUR. ANNIVERSARY.
My anniversary. My failures. My hard work. My determination. My goal.
And then some panic set to find the specific date. It was a moment for me because it really put a spotlight on, again, how I can be so blind as to not stop to appreciate things, including my own hard work. That I couldn't remember the date of something I had worked so long and hard for. I need to stop doing that. I'm GOING to stop doing that. Stop and smell the damn roses. Jesus. It was really hard. And I made it happen. APPRECIATE THAT.
My graduation inevitably was a bittersweet one. My mother didn't bother to save the date, so she forgot it. Her first child to attempt college, and finally after all those years to earn a diploma, and she didn't remember to ask off work. Instead, she sent my stepfather and youngest sister as representatives. My stepfather was so anxious to leave (because he really didn't want to be there in the first place), that as soon as I marched, he asked Aurora's dad to drive him back to his car as they had carpooled to the stadium. So when they announced the class of 2007 had graduated and we all cheered and started looking for family, I had none. I looked and looked and looked and finally had to call Aurora's dad to find him. Then he told me he had left and why. I started to cry.
At the end of all of it, there I was, alone. Just as I had been at the start.
But in retrospect, wiser, smarter, and funnier.
Happy Belated Anniversary to me.
Where haven't you given yourself credit lately?