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Embracing the Unknown: Journey from Manufacturing to Special Education

It was a quiet evening as I sat observing my wife diligently preparing for her nursing examinations. The intensity of her determination sparked in me a curiosity – could I too succeed in academia? Approaching my mid-thirties, I had spent nearly a decade toiling on the factory floor manufacturing lamps. It was a job that provided for our family but left me with a burning desire to seek something more meaningful.

My passion was not within the walls of factory, but among the pages of children’s books – indulging in vibrant colors, word associations, and related topics. I found my connections with little ones in Sunday school were fulfilling, and dealing with the so-called ‘problem children’ felt rewarding. Special Education was the field I desired to embrace. Supported by my wife and fueled by my passion, I decided it was time to change my path.

The Power of Assistance

With hopes to further my studies, I started the daunting process of applying for grants and student loans while navigating the maze of advice from well-meaning friends and family. Notwithstanding the prevalent discourse against student loans, I was resolved to invest in my future. After all, if I’ll have to repay my debts one day, it might as well be for something that brings me joy.

The defining moment arrived when I was questioned on my qualifications for a particular grant during an interview. With composure, I expressed my commitment illustrated by working for almost nine years in a strenuous setting and my wish to make a significant and positive contribution to the community. Though my words may not have been verbatim, the sentiment was authentic. They saw merit in my application and awarded me the grant.

The Pursuit of Knowledge

My journey into academia was without its insecurities. I was skeptical of keeping pace with dynamic students and demanding curriculum. However, my fears were quelled by the insightful suggestion of my college advisor to enroll in a specialized program designed to enhance my skills for navigating the academic world.

My apprehension of the immensity of my chosen study turned out to be a mirage. The factory experience had ingrained in me a practical strategy – I structured each course as a factory department and the instructor as the supervisor. Pairing this with my three-pronged study approach – learning through captions, creating self-review sheets, and verbal rehearsals – made me realize the application of real-life experiences to academics.

Lessons in Perseverance

Armed with an Associate of Arts degree from my community college, I was ready for the next step – the big leap to a university. The advice that was pivotal in this transition was succinct and powerful – ask questions, always.

The importance of good guidance cannot be understated. My college advisor ensured I was clear about my goals, the course of my study, and future prospects. Her invaluable insight and faith in my abilities boosted my confidence immensely, enabling me to navigate the university as a ‘non-traditional’ student.

From ‘Traditional’ to ‘Non-Traditional’

It was comforting to see many like me in this academic journey – mature, determined individuals returning to education in pursuit of their passion. The presence of these ‘non-traditional’ students increased as I progressed with my courses, alleviating my initial fear of feeling out-of-place.

The Learning Never Stops

With each passing semester, I was adapting better to my new educational status. The inconveniences felt insignificant compared to the sense of achievement that each passing day brought me closer to my goal – to be a special education teacher.

Fast forward five years; I donned the graduation hat with a Bachelor’s in Special Education degree. And seven years later, I continue to be an educational beacon for special needs children. Despite the lingering financial burden of loans, the satisfaction and fulfillment derived from my work make every penny worth it.

Life is certainly sweeter, healthier, and purposeful. The hurdles in your path are merely stepping-stones to reach your heart’s desire. Sure, every route comes with its challenges. However, following your dreams makes the journey worthwhile.

Rebecca White
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At Back2College, we’re firm believers that the pursuit of knowledge is an ageless odyssey.