Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Graduation Day!

Well, well, well – where do I start? Today I completed my undergraduate degree at the age of 60. It took me seven years, primarily because I was diagnosed with cancer halfway through and I stopped going for over three and a half years. There’s nothing like a phone call from your oncologist that starts with “I’m sorry but I have some bad news” to make you appreciate your time – I suddenly found that going to school and fulfilling a long range goal didn’t seem to be very important. When imminent disease and early death are suddenly a very real possibility, everything changes.

I was successfully treated and eventually recovered, a process that took a few years. After it became clear that I had dodged a bullet and wasn’t going to die, I rewired my brain to fully understand that and decided to go back to school and finish. Finishing is important. It’s also the hardest…

I really need to take a minute, look back and feel good about the whole process, and fully appreciate not only what I learned, but what I learned about myself. ¬†Adult education has been a process of self-discovery for me. I didn’t really know what I was capable of and I had no idea whether I was intellectually smart or not. Street smart – very. Book smart – not so much. I liked reading about what interested me. When I was a kid, I went to a public school in a small town in the south, and I remember I liked learning, got good grades, and never really studied. At least until the age of 14 or so…

That’s when my world imploded – I had grown up in a highly unstable environment surrounded by untreated mental illness, violence, and neglect. At the time I thought this was normal, that everyone lived more or less like this. Somewhere around the age of 14 I realized this probably wasn’t the case and decided I had had enough. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I had to do something. So I spun severely out of control and failed out of High School. I don’t mean “out of control” like a misbehaving kid. I mean “out of control” like someone poised for some very dangerous behavior. My potential was manifesting itself in the worst way possible…

Music is what saved me – plain and simple. It gave my life purpose and meaning, and the social connections of playing in bands was very healing. So fast forward a few decades and I decide to develop a second career to allow me to focus on making music that was important and meaningful to me and stop taking whatever soul crushing gig came up because I had to make ends meet. I start going to a state community college at the age of 45 – and lo and behold, I start to excel! WTF!! As I go through college, I begin to realize I’m graduating at the top of all my classes, and I’m thinking to myself, “Wow – I had no idea I could do this!

So today is my unofficial graduation day – I just finished my final course completing my college math requirements. I know fuck all about math, had never taken an algebra course before, yet somehow figured out how to solve the problems. My final grade was 99.5…

Maybe we should all step back and not ask “What can I do?” but rather “What can I not do?