Diary of… A non-traditional student

Annette Lorraine Taylor-Spence is a junior communication studies major with a concentration in speech communication. She is a member of Delta Epsilon Iota, and her interests include writing and event planning. She also enjoys drama and writes Biblical dramas produced at her church. Her philosophy on life is, “Find a need and meet it; find a hurt and heal it.”

It has been said that “life begins at 50.”  I’ve often wondered if this phrase originated by looking across the horizon beyond which the dreaded “50” looms and hoping for a new beginning.

In May 2008, I finally had everything in place to re-enter college after an almost 30-year hiatus.  At the age of 49, having raised two children, then 23-year-old Orville and 18-year-old Peta-Gaye who was graduating from high school, it was time to complete unfinished business.

By coincidence, the admission process, which was started two years earlier, was completed at the time my daughter would also be starting NSU. We expected to graduate at the same time in May 2012.

This was indeed a defining time in my life. The strange blend of excitement and apprehension was penetrated with fear one month later when my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. This was not the new beginning I had envisioned.

My first thought was that the timing was not right and since her treatment could not be postponed, I should postpone my college plans. But my mother was adamant. Her 30-year-old disappointment that I did not complete my undergraduate degree was going to be appeased, and she was not allowing me a way out.

It was in this atmosphere that I embarked on the challenge of being a full-time student while employed full time as an accountant with added responsibilities of directing the drama ministry at the church I attend. To this full schedule was added the responsibility, shared with my sister, of being a caregiver to my mother.

What followed was a flurry of family and medical consultations, surgery and chemotherapy. I became a fixture at the Broward General Cancer Center and developed a rapport with the nurses. If I was not reading a textbook, typing a paper or practicing a speech they would ask why I was not studying. Long days extended to longer nights to accomplish all the projects. I was determined that failure and mediocrity were not the examples I wanted to set for my daughter.

Having previously studied the sciences, worked as an accountant for 10 years, and now majoring in communication, there were many new elements to my life. In spite of the challenges, I enjoyed learning. My daughter and I were enjoying this strange new relationship and even had classes together. Life was a roller coaster of pleasant days, gentle rides, fatigue and bouncy rides requiring crisis intervention. By January 2009, my mother’s health was stable. She was still in treatment, and I had settled into a manageable routine.

A call I received one night as I headed home from school shattered that routine. My father in Jamaica was diagnosed with colon cancer requiring emergency surgery. Trips to Jamaica were added to a packed schedule. My emotions went from fear, anger, resentment, disbelief and, eventually, to resolve. Four months later, I spent my 50th birthday at my father’s bedside. Fourteen days later, I watched him take his final breath. This was not what I saw over the horizon beyond 50; someone had changed the painting.

Overriding everything, however, was a determination that my spirit would not be broken, and that there was a purpose for being in school at this time. I returned to the United States, continued to care for my mother, and returned to NSU with a new resolve to use everything I am learning to help heal the wounds that remain invisible. For me, a new approach to life began at 50.

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