Back from Chicago last night. This afternoon, I walked up to campus — here, that automatically means UC Berkeley — for an appointment with an undergraduate advisor in the College of Letters and Science. Mission: to see what I need to do to finish my bachelor’s degree.
Yes, we have no B.A. I went to school back between 1974 and 1980, but never finished. That never seemed to affect my life or work prospects because I was lucky enough to get real experience right out of high school in a field, daily journalism, that hardly asked what college you went to or what you did there as long as you had the fire and the talent for the work. And for a long time, that was enough. When I left daily print journalism in the mid-90s, my resume was my degree, and for a while, that was enough. But at this point — having bounced around online journalism, TV news, magazine editing and writing, and some marketing stuff, among other things; and having watched that daily print news world I came from wither — I’m thinking of other things I might do (I’m told I’d make a great history teacher if I can avoid scuffling with the students), and that resume is no longer enough. And beside all that, I admit it’s always bothered me a little to have that uncompleted task out there.
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My appointment was at 2 p.m., and my first reality check was the realization that although the College of Letters and Science is in the same building it occupied 27 years ago, I couldn’t remember precisely where it was. I wandered around a little before spotting it. I entered the place, a plain concrete-and-steel towerette I’d guess was put up around 1960, and checked in for my appointment.
The waiting room looks the same as it did in 1980, the last time I was there. There’s a reception desk at the entrance to a long room with plastic bucket-style chairs lining the walls. There are about a dozen institutional blond-wood doors, each marked “College Advisor.” The students sit and wait their turn to meet with advisors and check on their progress toward graduation or deal with whatever academic trouble has jumped up and bitten them.
What was a lot different from 27 years ago was me, relative to the rest of the clientele. Yeah, I was older than most undergrads when I was at Berkeley in 1979-1980. I probably would have been 26 when I graduated if I’d stuck it out; just a few years older than most of the people with whom I went to class. I have discounted the self-consciousness factor in considering going back to school, but sitting in the advising office, I wondered what it would be like to sit in classes with a bunch of — no, I don’t have a better word — kids. What would it feel like to sit in a senior thesis seminar with a collection of history majors my younger son’s age? Fine, probably, after the first session. And actually, it might be a real advantage to be in classes with younger students if I do pursue the teaching idea.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The first order of business today was to find out how much damage I did to my transcript the last time I was enrolled. I had a good start at Cal, with three tough classes — all history — and three demanding professors. I found out today that in the first two of my three quarters in school, my transcript actually noted I was an honor student. Shazam, as noted scholar Gomer Pyle, USMC, used to say; on the other hand, maybe Private Pyle would have made the grade, too, back then.
Then the wheels came off (the reasons were many and await a Tolstoy to relate them); the record after my third quarter noted I was “subject to disqualification” for failing to maintain adequate grades for the term. I got an incomplete in every class; I didn’t even bother to sign up for classes in my fourth quarter. I walked away from school with a feeling it had all been a mess and a vague sense that I needed about a year to finish if I ever went back.
At 2 o’clock, an advisor called my name. I answered maybe a little too eagerly and felt like I was right back in school as I followed her into her office. She confirmed what I thought: it would probably take a year, maybe a little more (with summer school) to get my degree. The tricky part is meeting some university requirements that have been instituted since I left school; and to fulfill a campus residency requirement, I have to complete the equivalent of my last two full semesters at Cal (as opposed to trying to mix in some Cal extension courses). But the bottom line is that I can start chipping away at all this in January.
With that good news in hand, I walked over to the post-World War II labyrinth that houses the history department. I needed to find out what department requirements I still need to fulfill. Just one, it turns out: the senior thesis class. In theory, I could start that in January, too.
I never made a bet on this, but it’s something that’s kicked around our family for a while: whether I could finish my degree before my kids did. Eamon gradated from Cal three and a half years ago, and Thom has a pretty good head of steam going up at Eugene and wants to graduate next summer, nearly a year early. So I’m not going to finish ahead of them. But I might make the Class of ‘0-Something, and then they can both come to my graduation.