In 2009, I was working a dead-end job with no benefits, low pay, and endless bills on top of it. I was tired of not getting ahead and not having anything to call my own. My only other option was to go back to school. But I was in my late 30’s and I knew that it would be harder than it was when I was 18. So, I decided to enroll in the community college first and became accustomed to academia. Then in 2012, I re-enrolled at North Carolina Central University. Attending an HBCU was on my radar since I graduated from high school in 1987. But life showed me otherwise, and I knew that I would have to put college on hold for a while.
After about 25 years of working dead end jobs, I got my first degree and now I was back at my alma mater with students that could be my kids. I was in my early 40’s and going for my bachelor’s degree in Hospitality and Tourism Administration. At first, I was nervous because I thought “Can I do this?” or “Will they accept me?” Being a non-traditional student was going to be hard to say the least.
I began slowly working on getting my grades in order and in time I began to warm up to the younger crowd and I learned a lot from them about their generation and the things that they deal with. My generation had to deal with several different issues: drugs, alcohol, police, not to mention our parents always badgering us about our grades and other stuff. And this generation is no different, only they have the internet and cell phones when all we had were home phones and pagers. They learned about the history of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s when I lived them. When some of them would ask me how it was, I would try to describe some of the things that I could remember.
They warmed up to me and finally after my 2nd year, I had gained some good friends that helped me get acclimated to being a student. I became involved with the Centennial Scholars Program where I met some good friends that helped me grow. Becoming a mentor to some of the men helped me hone my skills of mentoring and communication while making lifelong friends that will last a lifetime. Working in the office allowed me to meet many of the important people around campus like previous Chancellor Debra Saunders-White, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Gary Brown, and the new Chancellor Johnson Akinleye.
Being a non-traditional student has shown me that no matter what age, you are never too old to learn. I couldn’t have made it without four valuable tips that helped me cope and become involved with the campus community:
- Always seek out help when needed. I had some troubles with getting the information taught and retaining it. Once I went to the professors and talked to them about what they were teaching and what my learning style was, I found it much easier to get the info to help me. Also seek out tutors and your fellow classmates to help you. Many of them are probably in the same boat as you and when you study together, you get to know them and they get to know you.
- Get involved with campus groups. My involvement with the Centennial Scholars Program at NCCU gave me valuable insight and knowledge on what goes on around the campus. I got to meet several important people like Cornell West, Myron Rolle, and several others. Even if you just become a member of an organization, you will feel like you are a part of the “college experience”.
- Don’t act like a “know it all.” Just because you are older, doesn’t mean you aren’t able to learn. Many of my classmates could be my children. But when you listen to them talk, they have legitimate concerns about their future just like you have. A good friend once told me that you should “get in where you fit in”. If you don’t know what they are talking about, ask questions, sit and listen, then if you have an opinion, HOLD IT! Many times they just want someone to listen to them. If you can help them work out their problems, then HELP.
- Trust the process. When I attended Durham Technical Community College, I met an advisor that helped me through everything. She always said, “trust the process”. At first, I didn’t understand but after I graduated and went on to NCCU, I finally understood what she meant. You may feel that you aren’t getting anything done or that you are working hard and not getting nowhere. Don’t fret. You must start believing in yourself that you can do this. Once you start, then you will see the process and the end goal. Graduation!! You know you can do it because if you didn’t then you wouldn’t be in school right now. Congratulations and keep moving forward!
Reginald Terry is a graduate student at Temple University majoring in Tourism and Hospitality Management with a concentration in Marketing. He completed his undergrad at North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC where he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality and Tourism Administration. He also has an Associate’s in Applied Science in Business Management from Durham Technical Community College in Durham. He has worked in the hospitality industry for over 15 years and decided to change his career path and wants to pursue his PhD and become a professor. He stays in the Germantown area of Philadelphia. He loves his family, especially his two great nieces, who he is trying to be a positive role model for them and others.