As the semester comes to an end, many of us naturally begin to reflect on how the last few months went. Whether that be through calculating a final grade, updating your resume to include everything you’ve done, or seeing if you met all your goals for the year – all of it requires thinking about how things have gone in relation to a goal.
I tend to think about these things a lot. “What did I do this semester that I planned to do? What could I have done better?” I’ve put myself to a standard: to do everything I can the best I can, and no less. While this is something that is naturally programmed after thinking this way for the last 2 years of my journey in higher education, this last year in particular has made me aware of why I need to step away from that mindset.
Now, that way of thinking seems harmless, right? It premises on progress, encourages excellence, and all other tropes of the “mind of a successful student”; however, there is one portion of that sentence that poses the fault – “and no less.” That puts a boundary, and not a safety net, to the outcome of certain goals. If I failed, it meant that I didn’t accomplish what I had set out to do. It meant that if my plans fell short, then I did, too. This wasn’t to say that failure was something I couldn’t handle; failure was something I was well-acquainted with. But it meant that personal failure – the kind of failure that breaks the pathway you set your end-goals on – wasn’t a part of the blueprint.
I was set to go to a well-known research university after I graduated from community college last spring. I received a $20,000 scholarship from this university (which only 4 other students received), along with other Phi Theta Kappa scholarships. On graduation day, I felt golden: I was the first in my family to even consider university; I escaped homelessness and the confines of personal adversity and mental illness; and I did everything that my upbringing indicated I wouldn’t. I shared this with my graduating class as a student commencement speaker, and I was fully convinced that these previous achievements would continue to direct me toward that end goal of stepping onto my university campus that fall.
Well, it didn’t quite work out that way.
It’s probably easy to assume that the price-tag of prestigious American universities is rather high. You would think a first-generation, low-income student with substantial scholarships would have some financial fallback to make ends meet – not exactly. I went through the summer filing Financial Aid appeals, searching for potential loans for students with little credit history and no co-signer. I was genuinely determined to not let my socioeconomic status limit my future opportunities and everything I aspired for, so I persisted, blissfully perhaps. I was faulted because of missing tax documentation. As a child of a disabled parent who doesn’t understand the IRS any better than I do (and I barely did), this proved to be a serious challenge. My advisors and I met and put together all the documents we could, but it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t afford the remainder of my tuition and I had to withdraw one week before classes were set to begin.
Call it a foolish mistake – it was a necessary lesson.
I took the next semester off to reflect. Feelings of hopelessness and disappointment set in at first, but then so did feelings of thorough understanding and acceptance. Accepting that a drastic change to your plans can happen any time for any reason was a reality that made me re-realize that it doesn’t have to end the journey. It just meant things were on hiatus, and that a streak of success can end and resume again. It also brought to light that I don’t need to be confined to a schedule and finish earlier to be competitive, and I can do what I aspire to do in any medium. All that matters is how I do it with what is available to me.
Academic culture promotes the 4-year schedule for degree completion, while statistically, this has been debunked as the trajectory for most students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 60% of students at public institutions graduate within 6-years, 66% at private nonprofit institutions, and 26% at private for-profits . There is this umbrella notion that all students can graduate within 4 years, as observed in college marketing material with the numbers for “on-time/4-year” graduation rates. I have no doubt that there is at least one person in your classroom who will attest against this. Not everyone will fit into this cookie-cutter expectation, especially if you consider the trials and tribulations that come with different lifestyles and obligations, such as those that adult learners and international students must balance. This also applies to any facet of life, not just education – there is no single, linear approach to life. That outlook places unnecessary social and personal pressures that are discouraging to people who do not meet such a status quo.
So, the balancing act is one thing, really: mindset. In my semester off, I spent more time with my sister and nephew than I ever had before. I spent a lot of time considering state schools and their benefits, and how I could pursue my dream career at these institutions. I saved for future endeavors. I took some time to realize what I really wanted to do with myself, and what I could do well and with pride, leading to a change in major for me from Sociology to Anthropology. I gave myself the time to stop and think about a new approach to the rest of this journey I’m on, and I understood that I am the one walking down this path – not the path walking me. I need to be prepared for each turn that comes with it and I need to understand that it is all part of the narrative. It’s not about doing something at a certain time or doing it right, but rather doing what brings you forward and allows you to grow. Your goals will meet you wherever you end up, so long as you accept them and the opportunities leading to them.
I’m currently finishing up my first semester at Binghamton University, and I can say that I am living a future I never thought I would be.
Felicia Molzon earned an Associate degree from Suffolk County Community College before transferring to Binghamton University, where she recently completed her first semester as a junior studying anthropology. At Binghamton, Felicia serves as Treasurer for the Undergraduate Anthropology Association, Academic Affairs Vice President of her Residence Community Council, and is a member of Sigma Alpha Lambda. Felicia is a 2017 recipient of the Pearson Scholarship for Higher Education.
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