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Bianca Strzalkowski Headshot

The Antics of a Non-Traditional Student

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College looks much different to me today than when I was 19, rolling out of my dorm room just in time for class and eating Pop Tarts for dinner. My biggest responsibility back then was getting to the dining hall before they stopped serving tacos. Today, I am slow crawling my way through my senior year of school, after a decade of balancing academics around life happening. My story is not unique; the "non-traditional student" as we are called is the new traditional student. With a sluggish economy and tough job market, people around our country are going back to school to become competitive applicants or to all together change the field they need to work in. Add an extra layer to that onion of complexity, I am a military spouse during the highest national demand on our military force, a mom to three human beings that I have to ensure become good citizens, and I aspire to be something great at the ripe YOUNG age of 32.

See, I started college right out of high school, during the pre-9/11 era of our country. I could not have predicted that the largest terrorist attack would happen while my husband was serving, I couldn't have imagined that words like Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Horn of Africa would become common to me nor could I have guessed that life would become so... busy? During the days I work for a non-profit organization (Blue Star Families), earning income to help support my family and do goodwill for the community in which I am a part of; then, at various times throughout the day I alternate hats between being domestic goddess, 2011 Military Spouse of the Year, tutor, sports mom, and sole cook for my family of five, and in the wee hours of the night when the house is asleep, I study. My instructors want six-nine hours of my time, per class, which leaves little time for sleep but I have to keep my eye on the prize, right? The prize being a sense of accomplishment, more than just the piece of paper that will hang on my wall, I want to be something.

The greatest part of being an American is that there is no barrier to when you redefine yourself. So, at 32, it seems like a perfect time to master this college thing. Besides, I find school to be fun, a hobby almost, learning a new subject, engaging in smart conversation around various topics. Financial aid is a challenge, but I don't care. I will wrack up student loans through graduation day, but that is because I see a value in finishing my degree for myself. Maybe you're like me, maybe school is one of a dozen responsibilities and your homework time is when the rest of the world is fast asleep, and maybe, like me, you feel discouraged some days on if you can have it all, whatever 'it all' is to you. Don't give up. Don't. Education is a right afforded to us all, to some it may come easier because of the amount of time they have to devote or because of the amount of funds they have to pay for it, but finishing college is much more than that. It is a feeling of triumph, a sense of self-worth, a desire to know you did it even with obstacles. Whether your school day starts after your work day ends, or if you are taking a test online in between diaper changes and laundry cycles, you, my friend, are not alone.

You are one of a countless group who is back to school because something in life drove you back there. See you at the finish line, whether that is today or in a decade, just finish.