If I were a kicker, right now, I would be wetting my pants. Or, at least, hyperventilating.

Heaven knows, while I watched my husband plow through the front line of his second Masters degree, I hadn’t much sympathy. We were up against a wall; his career field had become as empty as the losing team’s locker room, a fact that was confirmed by MESC research. “Retooling,” a word imagined by spin geniuses, was mandatory.

I watched him in his huge green chair, nicknamed “World Headquarters,” as he studied, attending EMU as one of 13 full-time students in the MSW Class of 2012. He kicked ass, but I fully expected it of him. Am I not a loyal wife?

If you don’t know me well, you don’t know what a college education means to me. I am the first child on my father’s side to complete college. Neither of my parents finished, although my mom’s brothers graduated and I count them among the most intelligent men I know.

When I applied for school, my parents were barely married anymore. No one helped me. There were no trips to see the campus, no promises of a fun-filled college career, and no possible way I was traveling anywhere abroad.  I applied for a student trust fund for ‘gifted’ students through a local bank via essay application and interview, and landed it. Armed with money (at a 1% interest rate – why does no one offer these to today’s students? ), I headed off to school.

College wasn’t a star player’s camera shoot for me. I started with a 3.8 GPA. My dad moved out of state, got married without my brother and I in attendance, and never looked back. I filled that hole in my life with marijuana, partying, and a “who the hell cares” attitude.

Except, I did. About three semesters into my “devil take the hindmost” living, I found it did not fit. It was uncomfortable, chafing around the neckline and strangling my love of learning. I buckled down.

When my trust fund bank found out my dad was out of state, they required another friend or family member in state to co-sign my loan. Lacking one family member in Michigan, I called all my neighbors from a phone in my then boyfriend’s, now husband’s, parents’ bedroom and begged prettily.

Dick  and Francis Swing took a deep breath and agreed. I was never late on my loan repayment, not once, even when I was so broke I ate rice, baked potatoes, and rice, in appreciation for their faith.

I graduated in three and a half years. It was hell. I had no money. My freshman year, after my dad left, I had left (symbolically?) a bag of pot in my mom’s car during the rebellion and she cut me off from even an occasional five dollar bill in the mail, not that she had many to throw around following the divorce.

My final semester, I had precariously balanced my limited funds and had come up $100 short. I called my dad – I never had received a dime from him, up  until this point – and asked for a graduation gift. He agreed, somewhat reluctantly.

And you’ll never guess what happened.

It got lost. No, it’s true. But he didn’t believe it and he wouldn’t send me a new check for several weeks. I called my grandpa. I asked for $100 that I promised I would repay as soon as possible. He was not much for lending, but he did it.

In the meantime, checks were bouncing right and left, as I had paid bills in anticipation of this (now) meager amount. NSF funds almost did me in. I cried almost every day, the last semester of my college career, until the money hit my account.

Just before graduation in December, my dad’s check arrived in a plastic bag from the US Post Office. “So sorry. Machine malfunction.” No recourse.

Even my husband, whom I love and support with my life, was encouraged in his undergraduate career. When he graduated, he got a new car. God! Like a game show. I would’ve sold my soul for that kind of support. Because the economy at the time was fragile, his parents enabled him to return for an MBA. I’m not sure he even wanted it, although he had his own demons and wanted to do the right thing by enrolling.

I love learning. I just love it. I have tried, in the only way I know, to impart this feeling of urgency to my own children, but I don’t think they feel it. How could they? Their own parents made it through. Although we are not well off, they have had people standing by, willing to co-sign loans and hand over gas money. But I don’t know that they have ever attended college with the burning fire in their guts that I had. And have.

When I applied to attend U-M, I was almost paralyzed with insecurity. I took the GRE, but my math skills were abysmal. I’ve been accepted NGC (no degree credit) to see if I can make the grade. If I do well, if the instructor sees me worthy and able to attend, they will change this status and admit me.

Second string. This is my Kickoff.

People say it will be fun. That being in the classroom will be enjoyable and…fun.

Not for me. That girl is still inside, the one who tried to treat it lightly and could not.

When I finally got my act together, I graduated cum laude, with a major and two minors. My mom and her boyfriend came to the celebration. My dad did not. My own boyfriend’s family brought me earrings, the only present and acknowledgement I received.

I would be lying to say I do not understand the insecurity and fear on some of the first-year students’ faces. It’s our Kickoff.

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Photo note: I borrowed this photo of the WMU Broncos 1977 football team. I was looking for 1978, my freshman year, as I knew several of the players at that time.

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I should say that this time around, I have multitudes of support from my husband, children, family, friends, colleagues – even Katherine Madden, my admitting advisor in the School of Education at U-M. Thanks to you – and you know who you are – for this. It makes my kicking leg a little less wobbly.

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