Over the Schoolhouse Wall

By Ellen Wakefield

I just began my last semester of college and let me tell you – it hasn’t been easy going back to school as an adult. Being an “older” student has had its own share of challenges; on the superficial level, I’m in class with a lot of people who have never known an existence without cell phones, have unlikely ever fought with an actual paper card catalogue, and have never had to use White-Out. That kind of thing can make a girl feel old, and feeling old can be distracting; my mind already has too many tabs open at any given time as it is.

But on a more serious note, it has been difficult to “remember” things I supposedly “learned” in my previous educational experience. And relearning how to add studying and homework into a life that is already almost full to capacity has proven to be my biggest obstacle yet. On top of all that, the program I’m in is set up similarly to, say, a nursing program (so I’ve heard), in that you’re in the same classes with the same people for almost all of the time you’re in school. I’ve found this dynamic to be not unlike that of siblings: there is drama, there is bickering, snacks are shared (or stolen), and formalities fall by the wayside rather quickly. We help each other out and we have each other’s backs, but inevitably someone is always not speaking to someone else, someone thinks they should have gotten a better grade than their classmate who never comes to class (or comes to class and sleeps), and all other manner of narcissistic nonsense. But we couldn’t make it through this grueling program without any of this, so I salute my fellow soldiers, and any one of you brave enough to return to school after a long hiatus.

As I enter the home stretch of this part of my educational journey, I would like to take a moment to address my previous self, the one just starting out in this program, and impart some words of wisdom to her.

  1. Whatever enthusiasm and hope you have during the very first week of school, try to hang on to as much of that as possible. It starts to fade pretty quickly after the first semester, but would serve you well during those times you feel like giving up.
  2. Don’t give up.
  3. Find a mentor. Fast.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask the folks that have been around longer for tips, help, advice, and their phone numbers/email addresses. It’s not creepy, it’s endearing.
  5. Rent (as opposed to buying) textbooks that you don’t plan on using again for reference in your field.
  6. Find lots of different sources of help; teachers and mentors have lives, too, and can’t always be there when you need them.
  7. Don’t give up.
  8. Don’t get into the habit of taking things personally.
  9. It’s okay to break down and cry in the basement of the Wake Forest Law Library.
  10. Don’t give up.

It may sound absurd to give myself such a pep talk at this juncture – after all, I’m on the home stretch and almost done. I do it, however, to express how much I wish someone had divulged a few such words of wisdom to me when I was new at school. Perhaps this list can help some other student who is just starting out, and I sincerely hope it can. (Except for the crying in the basement part. That’s just for me.)