The Spring ’07 semester starts in seven days.
Yesterday I went to the campus to see my advisor, to have him sign some paperwork. I’m on academic probation, for bad grades made in 1992 or thereabouts. As a stupid kid (please note that I don’t think that all young people are stupid and misguided, but I was), I made several failed attempts at getting an education. The first was a failed semester at UNCA, where I would end up again, rather more mature, 15 years later. The second was most of a paralegal certification from a shaky certification mill in Fort Lauderdale. The third was another failed semester, this time, stupidly, at an expensive private college nearby.
It took me 15 years to figure out I was a nerd, not a paralegal (God forbid!), a Modern Languages major, an English major, or an actor. I’d be more pissed off about discovering this so late if I didn’t firmly believe that I am still ahead of the game.
The other day at a sock-knitting class downtown I met a middle-aged woman named Laurette. She’s retired now, but had a career as a technical writer for the federal government. When I told her I was a Chemistry major, her face lit up. She’d loved chemistry, and been encouraged by her high school teacher to study it. But she never did. She said she convinced herself — despite her teacher’s encouragement — that she wouldn’t be able to do it.
We talked about how her decision was a generational thing. Laurette is from a generation of women that didn’t believe in their scientific abilities, even when their teachers encouraged them, even when they loved science passionately.
I’ve got another friend in middle age who as a child watched a program on nuclear physics, and declared to her family that she was going to be a nuclear physicist. Her uncle told her — I imagine not cruelly — that girls couldn’t grow up to be nuclear physicists. And that was that. My friend abdicated her ambition in the spot, without question. But clearly you couldn’t keep my friend down, nor Laurette either, as both went on to lucrative and interesting careers: Laurette as a tech writer for the government, and my friend as a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force.
Like I said. I’m ahead of the game. It occurs to me that maybe I’m part of the Last Generation of women — the last generation of women to doubt themselves unknowingly. I hope so. And here I am climbing up out of the pit! I made it. Ahead of the game, if only just barely.
I took a women’s history class once that remains one of the most thought-provoking and educational experiences I have ever had. If you’ve never taken a class like this, take one. Even if you are a woman, there are things you don’t know that you need to know, like the history of your sex in this country. Do you really know what previous generations suffered? I didn’t. After taking this class I realized that I am at the head of a long, long line, a line stretching back more than a thousand years, of women who didn’t get to live the way they wanted. Out of this long, long line with me at the head, I am the only one who gets to study science, wear comfortable clothes, own property, marry whom I want when I want and if I want, and do and say and think what I please. Just me. Out of the whole long line.
I try to be grateful.
I feel a very real sense of living my life to the fullest not only to enjoy my own time here on Earth, but also for all the other women in that line, the ones who didn’t get to wear jeans, or sigh with the pleasure of ownership at how nice their front yard looks, or get so into a chemistry lecture that you lose all sense of time.
So. So I got my advisor to sign my academic warning paperwork from those old grades that waited for 15 years to haunt and disgust me, because school starts back next Tuesday. T minus seven days and counting.
I’m pretty sure that I will stick with my schedule that I picked out last semester, which is Calc III, Physics I, Chorus, and a required management course called Leading Fearless Change that’s part of my university’s liberal arts curriculum. Calc III is not a requirement, but I am taking it for several good reasons. I’m declared as a Chemistry major, but I still really can’t decide between chemistry and my first love, physics. So I am giving myself this semester to decide if I can. Calc III is a requirement for physics majors and math minors, and also a good choice for anyone who has to take Physical Chemistry.
P-Chem is the most infamously difficult of chemistry courses, and is sort of a very hard math class in chemical clothing. The word is that taking Calc III makes chemistry students much more prepared for the beating they will take in P-Chem.
I loved visiting the campus yesterday, already perking up for the coming semester. Young people playing with their dogs in the quad, teachers in their offices, supernerd students working on the super-secret winter-break research projects. I love being at the college so much that I know that I would love to have a job that let me work for one. My campus is such a happy, lovely place. I’m absolutely dead serious when I say to you that my vision of heaven includes reasonably healthy buffet dining with a friend, a math lab, broadband internet, nineteen million helpful nerds all within question-asking distance, good landscaping, research labs, a spot to do yoga, a big library, nightly cultural events, and the occasional loud party.
Who could ask for more?