LETTER FROM THE EDITOR: Welcome to the 2017 Fall Term and Your Road to Commencement
By Suzanne Lazar ’17, student, School for Graduate Studies; editor, The Student Connection
September 15, 2017
As the new term begins at Empire State College, some of you are beginning a new adventure in education, some are picking up where you left off at one point in time, and some are in the home stretch and last term before graduating.
Whether you are starting college for the first time or trying to improve on your credentials for that promotion you have been wanting, taking the step can seem difficult. You’re not alone!
We all have a story, a journey, a path that takes us down roads, long and short. One of my journeys began in 1984 when I graduated from high school in Schenectady, NY.
When I walked across the stage at Proctors Theater and accepted my diploma, I don’t recall feeling any different. I was excited to meet up with my friends and enjoy the summer before starting college. I wasn’t as excited though, to be starting college. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and I wasn’t sure I wanted to live on a campus, take classes, and begin thinking about the next steps to becoming an adult with some kind of career. But I did it, for one year, and I didn’t go back.
My journey continued with working, despite not having a degree, but I always had that lingering feeling, wishing I wished I had that piece of paper validating my college credentials. I learned a lot, took advantage of company training and took a course or two, on my own time, to help increase skills in a current job but also to help motivate me to one day, finish my degree. I was terrified to commit to full-time courses and I was equally afraid to go slow with one course at a time because I thought by the time I finish, I’ll be too old to get a good job. That was in my 30’s.
I was fortunate to land a job at a large company and secured a position for nearly 15 years, without a degree. I worked hard, got promotions, took risks with taking on different roles and positions and began to feel a sense of accomplishment. Finally, I was making a name for myself, but without a degree. The company was generous and had a tuition reimbursement program but I was still afraid to go back and finish what I started.
In the last five or so years at that company, we went through a lot of changes that were resulting in lay-offs due to foreign trade (outsourcing).
I started looking for a new job, in preparation for the worst-case scenario. I had so many great skills with many years behind me. But the work I did was so unique and specific, I couldn’t find a job title that matched. I started to panic so I looked at other jobs with requirements of the skills I had. Feeling relieved, I continued to read the requirements and when I reached the portion for education, I stopped. I could not proceed because I did not have the required degree.
I continued to do my job for a couple more years until I received the dreaded notification that my position was being eliminated. I feared being unemployed but I also thought about all the opportunities I could have if I went back and finished my degree. At this point I was 48.
I thought about what I wanted to do, researched jobs and degree programs and signed up for an info-session at the SUNY Empire State College location in Schenectady. I then applied, wrote an essay and was accepted into their undergraduate degree program.
I transferred the few credits I earned from my first attempt at college. I committed to being a full-time student and completed seven terms, back to back and through summer sessions. I took advantage of writing about my prior work experience which resulted in six PLA essays and 25 credits to apply to my degree. I persevered, just as I did for all the years leading up to losing my job because I wanted that degree, the new opportunities and the feeling of accomplishment that I lacked for many, many years.
I earned the required credits and finished my degree, one term sooner that I had expected, in December 2016. For two years I was consumed with business management, marketing, economics, organizational and consumer behavior and all the courses I took during that time, I had many late nights writing papers, well into the early morning hours, and I loved how much I was learning. In the beginning, it seemed like an eternity to complete and towards the end, I couldn’t believe how fast it went.
I received my diploma in the mail a couple months later. I couldn’t open it because I was too emotional. The piece of paper I longed for over the last 32 years was finally in front of me. Then came the email to register for commencement.
At first, I was very excited but as the months went by, my life had changed and I quickly transitioned from a full-time college student, back to working 9-5. I didn’t have any time to breathe and relax and graduating slipped out of my mind. But as the weeks went by, I had chance conversations with people who like me, finished their degree in December, chose not to attend their graduation and felt a sense of regret and disappointment, and also with people who were so thrilled they chose to walk across the stage on their special day.
As commencement reminders were steadily coming in, I registered and invited my family. I especially wanted my parents there and perhaps maybe that was the main reason I decided to attend. I wanted them to feel as proud as I felt for accomplishing this goal.
On commencement day as the graduating students were lined up to walk into the auditorium at the convention center at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, and Pomp and Circumstance began to play, all the feelings that I thought about for many years were taking over. I was elated, emotional, proud, and nervous that I would trip while walking across the stage.
When I approached the stage and my name was called, everything felt surreal. But when President Hancock put the medal around my neck and my mentor who was handing out the medals, gave me a hug, I knew at that moment I had accomplished a long, awaited goal.
Congratulations to the graduating students in the class of 2017 and best of luck to all students who are on their own journey to commencement!