Seven years ago, in the spring of 2010, a personal crisis hit. I woke up one day and found I had lost a client in my I/T work that significantly jeopardized the quality of life for my sons and myself. Facing the prospects of an income that was approaching poverty level, I endeavored to think outside the box for a solution that would not only allow us to make ends meet, but offer me a meaningful existence. Of course, raising two sons myself for years was already profoundly meaningful, but the income I was earning up to that point allowed us, among other things, to travel the US during summers and frankly, to put food on the table.
It also had allowed me to pursue my passion in art. As a photographer, photojournalist, and multi-media artist I had succeeded in actually selling my work. Not enough to live on, but that was a pretty damn good feeling. I was also able to volunteer extensively in the recently resettled refugee community in Phoenix. I mentored families and individuals from around the world who were settling into new lives here and unfamiliar with how to navigate day-to-day American life. I was a classroom instructor as well. I taught US cultural orientation, job-finding skills and technology skills. I loved it.
But as happens in life, all good things must come to an end. So now what?
I decided to go back to college, that’s what. I enrolled in Mesa Community College in the fall of 2010. Two art history classes and two cultural studies classes whet my academic appetite in topics which I was passionate about. Sure, I was 52 years old “on the outside”, but inside I was still living the journey, still determined to be actively involved in my own destiny.
I hadn’t been in a college setting since 1992-93 in Milwaukee. I only lasted a year though because I needed a job while raising a young family. Before that was a 16 year gap after high school (1976) when I was “finding myself”. In reality I was simply having a good time and working through 27 different jobs (I have them written down). My high school accomplishments barely registered. I graduated on-time, but my GPA as a high school junior was .818. That is expected when one decides to develop his pool-shooting skills instead of his English, Science, etc.
Fast forward back to 2010 and on to college I went. I loved it. I had to sneak out of my regular job every other afternoon, but I had built up enough work-cred as a successful account manager (sales guy). When my boss finally noticed my “extended lunches” on Mondays and Wednesdays, I explained what I was up to- and surprisingly, the company gave me their full support. Sure, I was bringing them about $20k in profit every month, so I felt it was more like “I scratch your back, you scratch mine”.
I wanted to continue my studies and decided to apply to Arizona State University. I wanted some flexibility in my degree so I decided on Interdisciplinary Studies. My “concentrations” were African and African-American Studies, and Human Rights; areas I had a strong, passionate interest. Three years earlier, in 2007, I flew to Ghana in West Africa (with Stevie Wonder!) for their 50th independence day celebration (see my photos on this site). Here in Phoenix I had volunteered as an official photographer for Amnesty International, and for Bono’s One.org. These experiences were reflected in my art, and I believed that an academic compliment to my creative side would lead me to my own “promised land”.
My undergrad challenge was not even a fair-fight. I had passion for the topics and decades of adult life experiences to draw on. I graduated summa cum laude (3.98 GPA) and was named the Graduate of the Year in the College of Letters and Sciences. I was simultaneously named the Leonor Boulin-Johnson Award winner for African/African American Studies Academic of the Year.
After being accepted to Howard University in DC for grad school (African Studies), I ended up back in Phoenix, enrolling in ASU’s New College to pursue a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies. I graduated in 2016 with a 4.0 GPA. But what next?
I had a great mentor who encouraged me to apply to teach in the undergrad Interdisciplinary Studies program in the newly named College of Integrative Sciences and Arts (CISA). I applied to be a Faculty Associate (adjunct), and lo’ and behold I was hired! In 2016-17 I taught two of the very same courses I was enrolled in not long before.
In April 2017, my mentor encouraged me to apply for a full-time Instructor position. I did. I was chosen to be interviewed by the search committee via Skype. Then I waited. Two and a half weeks seemed like a year. I was “waiting to exhale” when, on May 31st, the department head called me and offered me the position. Wow.
I couldn’t believe it, and frankly didn’t believe it until I received the offer letter a few days later (I thought hey, it still might all be an elaborate prank).
Now as I prepare to teach full-time in a university, I am on “Cloud 9”. Here I am, seven years after things looked bleak. Taking a chance on following my heart, no matter my age. Now I have my dream-job and I intend to be damn good at it.
This is not so much a pat-my-own-back post, as it is a parable. It’s never too late (well, until it really is). The “problem” is, the longer you take to get it done, the less time you have to enjoy it. I am 59 now, and while I’d love to earn a Ph.D., I am realistic. I want to enjoy my life. Check that, I really want to LOVE ,my life. I want to provide for my sons and help them as they become independent men. I want to travel and have meaningful experiences with a variety of people, in a variety of places. I am not religious, but yes, I am blessed.
Nothing is truly given in this life. We have to seek it out and earn it.
Oh, one more word of advice: Try not to wait until you’re 52 to give your mom a great report card to put on her fridge.
From somewhere hot,