Rising by degrees: She couldn't leave textbooks alone

True Tales From Everyday Living

May 20, 2007|By Marcia Cephus | Marcia Cephus,Sun Reporter

When I graduated from high school in 1992, like many young adults I wasn't sure what I wanted to be.

I worked at several secretarial jobs, but by 1999 - thanks to the world's neediest manager - I had come to the end of my rope as an office assistant and thought that going to college would be the way out.

I was 25, and I became so fixated with learning, that I decided I wouldn't stop going to college until I earned a Ph.D. I told myself that I would go straight through with my degrees - associate, bachelor's, master's and doctorate. I didn't even have a clue what I wanted to study. I figured I'd let the admission's officer tell me what he thought I should study. Duh! The only career plan I had was to no longer be an office assistant.

I started taking office technology courses at Catonsville Community College thinking I might want a job overseeing a medical office. When I finished in spring 2001, I thought I was on my way to the top.

But my mom said she didn't think I should be an office manager. She said she envisioned me taking Oprah Winfrey's job and that I should go into journalism. One degree down, three more to go.

Oprah Winfrey, watch out. Taking mommy's advice, I registered at Coppin State University in the fall of 2001. I was interested in journalism, but it was only offered as a minor at Coppin. So I majored in liberal arts, putting together a program that allowed me to take a few advanced writing classes, several newspaper writing courses and a couple of internships with Maryland Public Television and WSMJ 104.3, a jazz radio station. When I finished my internships, I was finished the liberal arts program.

In the spring 2005, it was time to put on the cap and gown again. Two degrees down, two to go.

I couldn't wait to get copies of transcripts from all of the schools I'd attended so that I could apply to Towson University's communications management program. I met all of the requirements, and I knew that I could write a statement of purpose. All I wanted to do was make sure that I didn't have to take any time off from my learning frenzy. I wanted to be attending classes at Towson in the fall of 2005. But the deadline for applications to the communications management program had passed and the next was not beginning until fall 2006. I refused to be deterred.

So I applied to the master's of arts in professional studies and took courses from the communications management program.

My fascination with education was still going strong. I couldn't wait until classes started in August 2005. I was already checking out books on the Internet. I had a new book bag, a new notebook with Towson University's logo.

Finally, classes started. The campus was so large, I got lost almost every day. Parking was horrific. But all this didn't matter to me. I was happy that my education had not been interrupted. Before I knew it, I had completed my first semester at Towson. I took two classes and received two As. I just kept thinking, "I'm coming, Oprah. Nothing's going to stop me." I was off to a really good start.

I took two more classes in spring 2006 and received two Bs. Not bad for a nontraditional student.

In the fall of 2006, I was accepted into the communications management program. I was excited and ahead of the game because I had nine of the 36 credits needed to complete the program. In August, I did my usual routine - checking out books on the Internet, getting a new book bag and a new notebook. I was ready.

But then one day last fall, I woke up and asked myself, "What in the world was I thinking?" It all had become too much. With work, family and class, I had no free time.

But I keep plodding ahead. On a typical day, I wake up at 6 a.m. to drop my 16-year-old son off at the bus stop. By 6:15, I am in the shower and anticipating my soothing ride to The Sun. I look forward to my morning ride because that is the only time that I get to clear my mind of all the thoughts that warped it before I went to bed the night before.

Once at The Sun, I perform all of my daily routines: I make it my business to smile and greet most of the staff in the newsroom and other departments, and then around 3 p.m., my mind is wandering and I am heading to the second floor canteen to get my favorite drink, a Red Bull.

After nine hours on the job, it's time to begin the second part of my day. Around 4:30 p.m., after taking a gazillion phone calls from dismayed readers, happy readers, wrong-number callers and my husband, I am heading to Towson University.

I make it to class and the instructor starts to talk. About halfway through a lecture on public relations campaigns and Aristotle's pathos, ethos and logos, my mind starts wandering. I'm thinking of the tasks I have to do when I get home - such as ironing clothes for the next day, spending a little time with my son and husband, and whether or not I will have to cook dinner. My husband, Duane, is pretty good with dinner and, lately, he has been ironing, too.

I have been very selfish for the last eight years - well, maybe the last two years - going to school full time. Not once did I think about how much my family and friends would miss me, or the amount of stress that time mismanagement would cause me.

I have three classes left. I expect to graduate next May. I think I can do it. However, the thrill is gone. I realize that once I complete my master's degree I will never set foot on another college campus, except to kiss my children goodbye.

It will be three degrees down, none to go.

And although the end is near, I really don't feel any closer to the top. I might as well admit to the world, and to Oprah Winfrey, that I'm not coming.

But I do still dream of one day owning my own public relations and marketing firm. I will call it Ph.D. - Public Relations Handled Differently.


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