Interviewee: Deborah Hendrix
Interviewer: Sarah Ainsworth
Date: February 25, 2004
Deborah Hendrix, current History major at the University of Florida, begins the
interview by giving a sketch of her family history and background. Born on St. Simon's
Island, Georgia in1954 her father was an artist and her mother worked as assistant to
the president of Seapak Corporation before they opened an art school together in
Southeast Georgia. She explains that despite the lack of focus on education as
opposed to technical application in her region she earned a two-year degree in biology
After years she of doing water quality grants for the state of Georgia and moving
three times Hendrix says she was "itching to do something else," but didn't even know
where to start to get a four-year degree. She earned a two-year medical technology
degree and then began working at Brunswick hospital, but explained that her new line of
work was still not what she wanted to do because it was another technical job that
involved repetitive tasks. This is why she returned to school in 1997 to earn a two-year
graphic arts degree from Sante Fe Community College in Gainesville, Florida.
Soon after entering the program she realized again she was on the path to earn
another technical degree. She recalls that her last required course was a humanities
course that helped her realize in the first five minutes of class that this is what had been
missing from her life.
A: This is Sarah Ainsworth interviewing Deborah Hendrix on February 25, 2004, in
the oral history office, about her role as a non-traditional student. First off, can
you tell me when and where you were born?
H: I was born in 1954, and I was born in Brunswick Hospital, which was the nearest
hospital to where we lived on St. Simon's Island, Georgia.
A: Can you tell me a little bit about your early schooling, since we'll be talking about
your upper education later?
H: I actually went to St. Simon's Elementary; it's just a little school. [I] went through
grades one through six on the island. After that I went to what they called then
junior high, which was grades seven through nine, and that was Brunswick Junior
High. Then, [I went to] Glynn Academy, that would be grades ten through twelve.
I graduated [from] Glynn Academy [in] 1972.
A: Is that a public school or a private school?
H: These are all public schools.
A: How about your parents? What kind of education did they receive, and what did
they do for a living?
H: My mom just had a high school education. She went to an all girls school in
Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated; I don't know the year because that's a secret in
the family. My dad, I think he went to private schools, but since he was an artist
he studied at various art institutes around the country. [He studied at the] New
York Art Students League in the 1930s, Cleveland Institute, [and] the Atlanta
High Museum of Art, and that was pretty much his education.
A: Did your mom work at home, or did she have another job?
H: No, my mom was never a homemaker at all. She always worked outside the
home and we had housekeepers to just do the daily things around the house. At
that time there were not that many opportunities for women, so she worked as a
secretary, and worked her way up to finally be assistant to [the] president of
Seapak Corporation on St. Simon's Island, Georgia, which is a packaging plant
for shrimp. As far as my dad, he was always an artist and he never did anything
else. That was his whole life and he started an art school in the fifties. Later on
my mom quit her job at Seapak and they worked together to create an art school
and start the arts in Southeast Georgia.
A: So did this influence your ideas of what you wanted to do after high school?
H: Well, I tell you, I was really kind of directionless. Where I grew up, the emphasis
is not much on education and it was mostly a kind of technical application for
these schools. So we never really knew about the wider world. We were very
isolated living on an island, so I really didn't have any hard desire of what I
wanted to do. But I was interested in biology, so I went ahead and got a two-year
degree in biology and I worked with the college doing water quality grants for the
state of Georgia. I did that for about five years, and then during the summers
we'd tag Loggerhead sea turtles on Jekyl Island.
A: So after you got your degree in biology, you were married. What year was that?
H: I got married in 1974, and eventually we moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. He
had gotten his two-year degree as a welder, so we were going to go out there
and just work. The idea was to work as hard as we could and save money so we
could come back and buy a house and all that. We just traveled around in a
travel trailer; we had bought a travel trailer just for the purpose of doing that. But
that didn't work out because I guess my idea of working a lot and his idea didn't
coincide. He ended up more partying than working, so that's the way that ended
A: You graduated from college the first time in what year?
H: In 1974 I got my two-year A.S. degree in Biology, and that was enough just to
work as a technician. What I did was, we would put out little samples along the
whole Georgia coast once a month, and then I'd come back and I would identify
the organisms that had attached. They would call them fouling organisms, and
they attached to these little plates. My job was to identify and number each one
of those organisms every month, plus help them collect it and all that. So there
was not much to it, just a lot of reading and research and identifying.
A: So at this point did you have any intentions to go back to school?
H: Oh yeah. I did as I gradually matured, I realized that it's just not something you
want to do the rest of your life. When we came back from Hattiesburg,
Mississippi, (we had come back from New Orleans back to St. Simons, and then
from there we went to Hattiesburg, Mississippi) I was always itching to do
something else, to find something, to go ahead and get a four-year degree and
all that, but I really just didn't have enough knowledge to even know where to
start on that. I knew they had a medical technology program, and using my
biology credits I went ahead and got that. It just took an extra year, so I got that
just as an interim job; it was not ever to be my vocation.
A: At that point did you have any idea of what your vocation was?
H: No, I sure didn't. I had no idea. I just hoped that one day I would come across it. I
went to work, of course you have to go to work, so I worked in a hospital. I knew
that wasn't it, but you have to work and make a living. At least I had a skill that I
could [use]. The idea was that I could work in a hospital anywhere at all, so that
was my idea for that in case we traveled around, that I could always get a job
somewhere. But unfortunately we divorced right after I got my degree, so we
never went anywhere after that, so I just stayed there in Brunswick. I worked at
Brunswick Hospital, where I actually did my internship and all that. I worked there
until I met my boyfriend, who I'm still with now, and that was in 1983.
H: Am I getting too far ahead?
A: No, not at all. I was going to ask you, when you got your A.S. in medical
technology, did you work while you were earning that?
H: Oh yes, I worked. As a matter of fact, I worked as a courier, and a clerk as well.
So it was like two different jobs and I was going to school. I could walk from the
hospital to the school, so it was close enough that I could do that. Therefore, I
could take a class and go over to the hospital and work, and then come back. [I
went] back and forth like that. So when I left, this happens almost everywhere
I've worked, they had to hire two people to replace me because I was starting to
put in like fifty or sixty hours a week working weekends and nights and days and
never taking a day off and all that because I was trying to save up a lot of money.
The lab supervisor called me up and said, you know, I'm really mad at you
because I have to hire two people to replace you. I said, [sorry], what can I say?
That's when my boyfriend and I went to Houston, Texas.
A: What brought you all to Houston?
H: Well he has a degree in geology from the University of Florida, so he wanted to
go out in the oil fields, the oil well companies out there in Houston, of which the
whole town is just all oil centered; everything revolves around the oil industry. So
we went out there, and sure enough, we went out there cold and he got a job in
three days, a really good paying job in three days, working on the oil field. That
involved going out on those platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and all that. It wasn't
a real great job, but it paid pretty good. So he did that and I was studying for,
there's a national board you have to take for medical technology, like a licensure,
so I was studying for that so I could start applying for a job. When I did that I got
a job the first place I went, just like that, and that was in the beginning of 1985.
You can't do that anymore, and they were happy to get me too.
A: Okay, now I know that later in your life you got two more degrees, and now
you're working on your third?
H: Yes, I am.
A: So I want to know, when you went back to school for the medical technology
degree, how was that college experience different from your earlier experience,
and then different again from your later experiences?
H: Well in medical technology, what you do is you work in a laboratory setting and
you're really kind of isolated. All you really learn from that is how to make sure
your computer doesn't break down or [that] your instruments keep proper
measurements. It got better later because I started working with patients out on
the floor, but I knew that [I didn't want to do that forever]. We had come back
after the oil industry, the bottom fell out in Houston, that only took two years, of
course, from the time we got there. We saved up a lot of money though! We
came back to Gainesville because he had property here, and I got a job,
immediately again, at Shands. I just got it. I went over and interviewed and they
said, can you start next week? I said, oh yes. We came back in 1986 and I got a
job right away. Still it was an interim job, but I had to keep working at it because
we decided we were going to build a house. So that's why I had to keep working.
All the time I knew that wasn't what I wanted to do because it's a technical job,
and the difference is you're really doing repetitive tasks over and over again and
there's just no room to use your brain. You get numbed after awhile, at least us
working in the lab all did. We didn't know it was the cause of our dissatisfaction,
but I gradually came to suspect this. I said, well I've got to do something
because I think I'll go crazy if I have to keep this up the rest of my life. So I
scouted around again, what can I do, what can I do? So I was interested in
computers and things, so I found the graphic design program at Santa Fe
Community College. I said, well I'm going to try this, so I did. I was working and I
was going to school. I returned to school in 1997 for the graphic design degree,
but guess what, again it was a technical degree, and you're still doing the same
thing, although a different field, over and over. I said, well I'm going to finish it
anyway. It [was] just as far away from [the] lab as you can get except for one
thing, you do have the work ethic really instilled in you. So I finished it, but I knew
there was no way in the world I was ever going to work at this sitting at a
computer all day. I mean, that's even worse than in the lab. But my last required
course was a humanities course, and when I walked into that room, in the first
five minutes I knew, this is what I had been missing the whole time. That was it. I
said, I'm going on and I'm going to get my A.A. and get my history courses at
Sante Fe Community College so I can get into history at the University of Florida,
and that was it.
A: Which course was it?
H: It was a humanities course. It was the Renaissance period, I think that it was like
from 1400 to 1600, but the point was that it required writing papers and research
on history and things like that. It was just like I found it after all those years.
Luckily, just by wanting to persevere and finish that graphic design degree, I
found it. I would never have [found it]. Otherwise I'd probably still be working in
that lab right now.
A: Was it a requirement for your degree?
H: Yeah, it was required. You know all these things don't really cross over, because
all my academic prerequisites were in Georgia, so a lot of things didn't cross over
to Florida. I had to retake [a lot of classes]. I had already taken lots of humanities
before, but it wasn't like this then. It's just a difference in teaching styles, I guess,
that had changed. It was almost like one of those Eureka moments, and that's
what set me, that one moment, on my course.
A: Was it really within the first five minutes of the class?
H: It was. She started describing what we're going to be doing and she gave a
course [syllabus]. They give like a little teaser, you know, a lot of professors do
that, and she was giving her little teaser before the class. I just said, my gosh,
this is it, this is what I've been missing in all these technical courses that I've
been taking. It was just luck that I found it.
A: When you originally chose to go into biology the first time you went to school,
was that some sort of interest that you had all along?
H: I did, I had an interest. I wanted to be a marine biologist, you know, growing up
on the ocean and everything. That's a good question because I really had set my
course to be a marine biologist, but as we got into the grants, because that's how
you work in the field of biology, you get grants and you have to work and do the
political thing and cast about for someone to fund your grants, at that point I lost
interest in it. I just thought we'd be able to go out in boats and do all the
sampling, but I found out the majority of it is trying to scare up grants to do it with.
So at that point I just lost interest, just like that. I said, I don't want to do that. In
hind sight I probably should have stuck with it, but at that time [I didn't think so].
When you're twenty years old you're kind of idealistic, and that just really went
against the grain at what I thought I should be doing with my life.
A: But at that point you had never considered the humanities?
H: No, I didn't, I didn't know it was really there despite the fact my father was an
artist. Of course I didn't see him that much, he was working quite a bit doing
classes and whatnot, and he was a scholar himself, [so] he kept to himself
because it took a lot of his time. I really grew up not really seeing him a lot. It's
just ironic that I would kind of come full circle like that.
A: It is. The moment you just knew you wanted to go into humanities, did you have
any other ideas of goals?
H: Well I had been working with documenting things on videos and things like that. I
started with that in 1993 and I was really fascinated with that. I had thought I
might do documentaries or something, but still it's so vague, and it's hard to
break into that kind of field if you don't know anybody. It's really hard. So I had
just been doing things like that on my own and it kind of evolved to the point
where I was interested in finding out about people; not the well-known people,
but just everyday people. It had kind of just slowly evolved into that, and then by
1997-1998, I had thought of this vague idea of oral history, but I had never heard
of it before. It just kind of evolved separate from everything else. I thought, well
I'm going to interview these people and find out about their lives and everything,
and I'll put it on a tape for them and then they can have it for their families. Then I
found out that there was actually a discipline of oral history out. I thought, well I
must be on the right track here. It all just kind of merged together.
A: When did you start volunteering for the oral history office?
H: It was March of 1999. I came over and they gave me like a 200 page transcript
that needed a summary. It took me about two months to do it because I wasn't
quite sure how to do it. I got so interested in the man that I was doing the
summary on. I really enjoy working here so much. It's all going to come together.
My goal now is to graduate, I have to graduate, and it's really hard because of
the age difference.
A: Well we'll get into that a bit later, but could you tell me about how you originally
found out about volunteering here at the Oral History office at the University of
H: Sure. I happened to see an article in the paper with Dr. Pleasants and Dr. Proctor
together. They were talking about an oral history they had done on, I believe his
name was Pete Peterson. They said, well anybody that's interested can email
this certain person, [and] it was Dr. Pleasants' email address. So I emailed him
immediately, and I got a response back immediately, and then I went in and here
I am. I'm still here. That's all it was.
A: Immediately with a 200-page summary.
H: Yeah, [it was like] okay.
A: After you got your graphic design degree, you started at Santa Fe immediately
after you finished, or did you wait awhile before you did that?
H: Well like I said, I started in 1997 for the graphic design degree. Since I was
having to work at the same time I couldn't take a full load, there's no way,
because I was working full-time. Full-time at a hospital means fifty to sixty hours
a week, it does not mean forty hours, and that's simply because you have
staffing issues in a hospital. You cannot just not show up and you cannot just
leave, you have to make sure that there's somebody there. Since I was the
supervisor, that usually fell on me to make up in the gaps. So I worked [and] I
would take like two classes at a time. It took me about three years to get a two-
year degree, and that was using credits that I could scavenge from Georgia.
That's a whole other story, trying to transfer credits so old from state to state. I
went through all kinds of bureaucratic stuff and flags on your record, then you
have to go back. [They would say], oh there's a flag, you've got to go fix this, well
I already fixed that, well you've got to do this, you've got to do that. Once you're
in, you're in, but it took me about three months to get all that straightened out.
A: Was that to get into the University of Florida?
H: That was just Santa Fe.
A: That was actually my next question. You're going right on the same course as I
am, so tell me about the process from Santa Fe to the University of Florida.
H: Well that was another nightmare. Again, I was fighting the old [course credits to
be transferred]. It had been a lot of years since I had really taken academic
courses, so a lot of those didn't transfer because we're talking the quarter system
back in Georgia. They were on the quarter system [in Georgia], and of course
they're on the semester system here at Santa Fe and at UF too, of course. So
when I transferred from Santa Fe to UF I had met all the requirements, I even
had to go back and take that CLAST test. It was just the math, they just wanted
me to take that, the English was fine, but I had not taken a math test in twenty
years. They gave me this 365 page book to study for this math test, and this is
the semester I had taken four classes, so I had that too, and [I was] working full
time. I don't know how I did it, but I actually did it and I passed that math test,
which to this day I really think that it was a mistake that I passed. I don't know
how I did it. I did okay, but not as good as I could have done if I had more than
six weeks to study. Oh, and that's another thing, I only had six weeks to
[prepare]. Because they only give it certain times of the year, so in order to get
into the summer 2001 [term], I had to pass that test and all that. Okay, well I
passed the test and that was fine. Okay, well the paperwork didn't quite make it
through and I missed the deadline, so I couldn't get in. Actually back up to 2000, I
was supposed to start in 2000, but the paperwork didn't go through. It was just on
and on and on with that. I've messed up the date too, the CLAST was in 2000. All
this in 2000. I was supposed to start in the summer of 2000, and I didn't. Then it
did it again, there was something else that happened for the fall of 2000, so it
was just little things that held up the paperwork, and it was back and forth.
Anyway, I finally did get in, and when I got in and I was accepted, I was accepted
in 2001, and the day that I was supposed to go for the orientation, my mom
passed away, so I couldn't go in the summer. I wrote the University of Florida a
letter and they said okay I had to drop out of some classes at Santa Fe. I was
just taking some extra classes at Santa Fe, and I had to drop those three weeks
before the end of the semester. This was April 2001. So I took the summer off
and tried to get [things settled]. The estate was a huge mess because there was
no estate planning and there was a whole lot of property and accountants and
lawyers and investment banks. It was a real nightmare. I'm still working on that
as a matter of fact. But finally, in 2002, I started. Finally. I had to go back and
finish up my classes that I had to take an incomplete in the fall at Santa Fe. I
couldn't finish them, so they let me come back and finish them. I was taking three
[classes] just for something to take while I was waiting. But finally I started, and
boy, you talk about night and day. This is a very different experience from
anything I've ever done when I got to UF. What they say about Santa Fe and all
those junior colleges [is true], they are like extensions of high school. When I got
here I was really intimidated, to say the least, because those kids in there are
smart and they are way smarter than I am. They were just so articulate and
everything, that it just totally inhibited me from saying anything.
A: So you sort of experienced a culture shock coming in here?
H: Oh boy! If I had known, I don't know if I would have done it, I really don't, but I
stuck with it because that's just my nature. I just can't quit; I can't let it get the
better of me. I'm going to beat this thing. I got into the classes. Of course, I
started as a junior, technically a transfer student, so I was up with these [kids]. I
was just so impressed with how smart and serious they were. They knew how to
study, they knew the material, and they knew how to express themselves, and all
of that I just couldn't do. I was totally outclassed at first.
A: You said they know how to study, are your study skills something you had to
refresh yourself on?
H: Oh yes. I'm still working on that. I think probably everyone works on that or
continually hones that. The way I had always been to school and what was
expected was very different from what was expected when I got into the history
program here at UF. Before it was mostly you're just kind of regurgitating facts
and things like that, you're not really required to use your brain and incorporate
those into abstract ideas and then in turn be able to express that on paper. Now
that was something that I had never really done. I was really excited by that
though at the same time because it's such a challenge to be able to do that, and
if you can do it, then you know you obviously are absorbing your material. But
that was my biggest handicap at first, plus standing out like a sore thumb in each
class. It looked like the average age is about twenty-two in those classes,
probably younger, and I could be each one of them's mother, that's for sure.
A: So what about the students in your classes? Did you study with them or socialize
H: It's funny how you imagine things are going to be. When I came in I just imagined
this great atmosphere of all this learning and everybody would be just talking to
each other and having little groups where we'd be discussing these intellectual
things and all that...no, it wasn't like that. I think people didn't really know how to
handle me either, so really, there just was no dialogue. Nobody talked to me, and
in turn, I wasn't really sure how to talk to them either. They were certainly polite.
Like for instance, I'd be walking down, and you know how they hand literature out
to the students, and they see me coming and they wouldn't even offer to hand
me stuff because I'm not a student; I don't look like a student. So [it's] things like
that, just little things. You notice that too when you're on the other end of it. And
the teachers too, they weren't quite sure how to handle me. My first teacher, Dr.
Jessica Harlan-Jacobs, I think she's the advisor here, she wasn't quite sure how
to handle me either because I think she was about thirty. I don't know how old
she was, [but] she was way younger than me. When we would talk, it might be
just me, but it seemed like they were not relating to me as a student, [but] they
were relating to me more as a co-worker. So you don't get the same kind of
benefit. It's different. In theory you can say it's not, but it is. Really I am separated
from the student body, but I'm working on that.
A: How are you working on that? Is there anything that you can do?
H: Is there anything I can do? I think I just have to get over this thing that I am so
different and just pretend like I'm not. It's hard to do, but I'm getting better. If I
keep to that strategy and just basically initiate the conversations myself, it helps,
but still, the conversation doesn't go very far because I am obviously in a
different stage in my life than they are. Of course they look at me and I look like
their parents, and they don't want to talk to me on any kind of other level than
that. I don't blame them.
A: Speaking of your age and experience, how do you think that has made it more
difficult or easy for you to be a student again?
H: Well the obvious answer, it's easy because I'm not distracted by outside social
life. I can focus just 100 percent on getting through this. I don't date [and] I'm not
looking for a husband, or anything like that. That's how the age is easy. But hard,
it's hard to blend in. I feel like this bright purple spot on a big gray field. I stand
out, I do, and I try and deceive myself that I don't. It's funny, you pick up on these
things. In your classes there's thirty or forty people in a class, but in every class
that I've been in so far, the teachers always know my name. They never have to
ask me. That's a clue right there [that I stick out]. For everybody else they say,
what's your name again, what's your name again, but the instant that I raise my
hand, Deborah. How do they know that? So that's a little clue that I stand out too.
A: How do you think the students have changed since you first went to college?
H: That is an excellent question, because they really have changed. It's just huge.
When I went to school in the seventies, it really wasn't cool to be a good student.
It's hard to explain, but this is a period when being identified as a good student
and getting good grades and always studying and always being on top of things
[was] a sign that you're with the "establishment." So when I went to school the
first time, and probably [this] is why I'm still having to go to school, it was just not
cool to excel in school. The students just wouldn't come to class, they wouldn't
do any kind of homework assignments and things, and their papers would always
be late. There would be one or two, of course, there always is, but overall, they
were bad students. It was considered good to be a bad student because you
were rebelling, see, against society. Society was this big monolithic thing where
they told you what to do. Whereas now, it is the exact opposite. The people that
don't put forth the effort are seen as not cool. That's the way I interpret it
anyways. You have to get good grades [because] the competition is fierce for
jobs and things. You have to make it through school to the best of your ability
and put forth a lot more effort than even required. You've just got to go above
and beyond. That's my impression anyway, right or wrong. But that's the huge
difference between when I first started and now, and that's why I got such a
shock. As for me, where I was back when I was in college the first time in the
1970s, I was in the middle. I wanted to do good, but I also didn't want to be
ostracized for being a good student. I sure didn't want to do bad. So I was kind of
in the middle not doing as well as I could.
A: How do you think the University of Florida campus compares with Brunswick
College? Was it a smaller school or a large school?
H: Oh my gosh, there's really hardly any comparison. This is a good school, and
Brunswick is a bad school. Brunswick Junior College, it was called that then but
it's changed its name now, but you just don't have the faculty, it was only a two-
year school. They had been trying to go four-year, but I don't think they ever got
there. It's just low quality and it's a low quality education that I got, and I didn't
know it [because] I didn't have anything to compare it to. But here, everything is
just so geared to help you learn and the teachers are all really [at the] top of their
field. I could go on and on about the differences, but basically you've got good
instructors and bad instructors. At Brunswick Junior College they were all just
mediocre. It was just a job to them, and that's it. Of course, I didn't know.
A: So that could have contributed also to the shock.
H: It did.
[End of side Al]
A: This is Sarah Ainsworth interviewing Deborah Hendrix on March 25, 2004, in the
oral history office to replace the second half of the original tape, which was
unable to play. Earlier in the interview you had told me a little bit about your
experiences fitting in with a younger group of students who for the most part are
not your age and in the same life situation. I wanted to know a little bit more
about that, a month later, [to see] if your feelings have changed.
H: Well, I have a lot to say about that. It's really hard returning to school when the
age difference is so great, and in most cases, I'm old enough to be my [fellow]
students' parent. In the university setting, I'll say one of the differences is that the
range of the age of students is much narrower than in a junior college. In a junior
college, of course, you get people that have returned to school just to get maybe
another type of technical degree or something like that. But in the university
setting, the age range is maybe what, five years apart or something like that? It's
not much. Then again, you just really stand out. The other thing is that in the
university setting, I believe, the kids are much smarter. It's harder to get in the
university than in junior college, because they have different functions in the
community, but at a university these are the kids that are starting out, and they're
just smarter. They really outclass me, I have to say that right off the bat. So how
do I approach that? That's something I'm still working on to this day, but it's hard.
It's hard because I want to get the most I can get out of a class, and really I'm on
the same level as they are as far as knowledge of the subject. I'm sure, or maybe
this is my perception, that they look at me and think, what am I doing here,
certainly I know all of this because I'm older. It's this fine process of assumption; I
must know all of this, but I actually don't. The way I speak is different; it's
different from the way they speak, and that's a difference as far as just the way I
approach a problem or talk about a problem or whatever we're focusing on in
class. So that's a difference that I [have noticed]. It may again be my own
perception of that, but it's a barrier to my feeling at ease in class. Again, I have to
point out, that they have been in school [continuously]; there hasn't been any
gaps for them like for me. A lot of the stuff, honestly, I just forgot, or I never
knew! So they have that advantage too that I feel like it's a disadvantage to me
because there's this huge gap in the basic curriculum that I took many, many
years ago. I just forgot, basically; I forgot a lot of the stuff. Therefore, they're able
to really put these things together, whatever we're talking about in class, in a
much more intelligent way than I can. So that's a problem for me too. I can go on
and on about these problems, because there's a lot of them. I've been working at
trying to overcome these problems since I returned back here at the university,
which would have been the spring semester 2002. I've been working on that ever
since. These have been persistent problems, and the only thing that I think would
make it better if I [would] just get more relaxed about the whole thing, and I'm
working on that.
A: What kind of advantages do you think you have being an older student that the
younger students don't have in terms of age or experience or motivation?
H: Well, definitely I have some advantages. I have to say that I have eliminated a lot
of the prospects of a career already, so I guess I'm more focused in what I want
to do. I can only guess that people at that age are still kind of exploring what they
want to do with their lives. Now I've already been there, so I know what I don't
want to do, and I guess that's an advantage. It really puts me in a position of
being more focused. So when I get assignments, I take them literally and I don't
cut any corners; I do them all and I do them way more than I should, which takes
up a lot more time. Of course conversely, that could be a problem, because I
don't know how to take the shortcuts like, I'm just assuming, my fellow students
do. They always seem to get the assignments done much quicker than I do; it
could be age. It's just a matter of being more disciplined. I think I am more
disciplined because I don't have the distractions of being younger.
A: Well, you mentioned earlier that younger students tend to have assumptions
about you in your class. I was wondering, what kind of assumptions do the
H: Well again, I have not actually point blank turned to somebody and said, well do
you think I'm this way or that way? These are just assumptions piled on
assumptions, but I really think the teachers, when they look at me, I can feel that
they treat me differently. They treat me as a peer, basically, because I am; I'm
the same age. The students can't [treat me as a peer] because I'm not the same
age. They look at me like their parents, which is understandable. The teachers by
that, it works a little bit to my disadvantage, I think overall, because I'm not sure
they're expecting as much from me as from the students. I had just thought about
this in the past few weeks. It just seems like they're kind of giving me the benefit
of the doubt in a lot of cases, especially in grading and things like that. There are
papers that I turn in that I know aren't that good, and yet I get pretty decent
grades on them. I just feel like they're kind of giving me a lot of benefit of the
doubt and giving me a better grade than I deserve. That's one thing. Again, that's
an assumption. I don't know how you correct any assumption like that; I really
A: Do all these factors, the way you perceive students and teachers acting, affect
how much you participate in class?
H: Very much so. I'm still, and this could be just my personality though too because
I was never very aggressive or outspoken. I just never liked to bring attention to
myself, but yeah, I hardly ever speak up in class. That's one of the things the
professors always say. They will pull me aside and say, you know, you can
speak, you can say something in class. I say, I know, but just the things that I say
don't really sound to me like they fit in. They sound more like a voice of authority
rather than just trying to put in my opinion. Also, the things that I've noticed, to
me, when I talk about politics or things that have been in history, I sound more
cynical. I thought, I wonder if I should be saying that kind of thing in class,
because it sounds pessimistic. It's just kind of your opinions that you get over the
years. I can only guess that the kids, young adults, haven't had enough life
experience to get cynical yet. So that's one thing that inhibits me a lot. Every time
I think about raising my hand to say something I think, gosh, I wonder how this is
going to sound? So I just don't.
A: You mentioned life experience making you sound maybe more cynical because
you've actually lived through more. On another angle to life experience, how has
that helped you in managing your time going back to college, either [with] past
jobs [or] past times that you've been to school?
H: It's helped me a lot because I have come to treat school like a job. In other
words, I get here at the same time, I put in the same kind of hours, and it just
works out better if I treat it like a job rather than saying, I don't have to be here, I
don't have to do this, I can put it off. And you can put it off, but towards deadlines
when they come up, you don't ever have enough time. So that has helped me a
lot, just being in the work force and knowing that you have to be there a certain
time. That's just been my approach, but if you treat it like you would just be going
to work, then you can get more done. But still it doesn't seem to be enough time
even that way.
A: Well, if it doesn't seem to be enough time, that must mean you have multiple
roles in your life right now. Tell me a little about those and how you juggle them,
and the stress that comes along.
H: Well again, that has kind of evolved. When I first started back to school, it's just a
huge rearrangement of your life. The people around you expect you to do this
and do that, and that changes right away because I don't have time to clean the
house up like I used to. That creates tension in certain areas, so that's been
something that's being resolved; it hasn't been resolved [and] I'm not sure it ever
will. Of course, I don't know if it's on here, but I mentioned before that I had to
take over the management of my parents' estate, and that has been going on
since 2001. That takes up a lot of time because I still have to commute back to
Georgia once a week to take care of the properties. Then I have another big area
where I've been archiving my dad's pictures and his artwork. There's just
thousands, literally, of those, and I've had to kind of educate myself on how to do
that. I do that when I can, just in the spare time. Like if I say, I've got a few hours
so I'm going to go and do 100 of these and put them in the folders. But all of
these things, at first, they were just fluttering around and nothing seemed to get
done. But it's gradually come to where I've developed kind of a schedule. I go to
school Tuesdays and Thursdays-that's been my schedule [although] I didn't plan
it that way, it's just kind of working out that way-and on Mondays I study and on
Wednesday I study and do chores that I didn't do all week, and then Thursday
through Sunday I'm in Georgia and I study there in the evenings when I can. That
can vary according to what I know I need to do, but it's kind of worked into a
schedule like that. It just all kind of works itself out, but still, I wish there was an
extra day in the week.
A: You had talked about other people's expectations when you went back to school,
so I wanted to know a little bit more about that, and maybe what kind of support
you received from them [for] going back to school.
H: That's an interesting question, because you would think that with the value that
our society places on education, that would be kind of transferred to anyone that
displayed an interest in wanting to return to school. You would think that would
be no matter what age, but that's not actually the case that I have found. When
my family and the people around me found out that I was actually serious about
returning to school, at first they supported me, but then when they found out the
intrusion of time that it caused in their lives, well things turned around. So as a
result of that, I just have little to no support. Now it's come down to, you're over
there just playing around and you're not doing anything, and why are you doing
this, and what do you get out of it? When I try and tell them what I get out of it,
which is a greater understanding of my place in the world-I mean it sounds
dramatic but it's true, and in turn the value of what I can contribute, it gives me
options to contribute-it's like they didn't even hear that. I guess it's selective
filtering. I'm not sure how that is, but it's really strange. I thought that was one of
the strangest things, that I didn't get any support from the people around me that
try to encourage me at all. They're always saying, well when are you going to
graduate? It's a negative feeling; a negative response. That was shocking to me
because I thought I was doing something that was cool, but that must be another
assumption on my part. [Laughing.]
A: Well, when you do graduate, what are your plans?
H: Well, I have a lot of plans, but I want a continuum. I'm a history major, and I really
see a potential here for myself to conduct these oral histories. What I want to do,
is to do it for families. But with a history background, it gives it a lot more value
than if you just go up and say, well how was it when you were growing up and all
that. [By] having a knowledge of history, you can ask questions that will be
interesting [to] many generations in the future. That's one of the things I want to
do. The other thing is, of course, I'm going to promote my dad's art, but that's
something I still have to research. It'll be there and I'm not quite sure how to do
that at this point. As far as the history, I'm really excited about applying history to
the popular culture. I'm not quite sure how that's going to work yet, but I just
know it's going to work well.
A: What are some of the special challenges you've faced as a returning student that
we may not have already discussed that you can think of?
H: Well, I'm just lucky that even though I'm going to be fifty this year, I'm in really
good physical shape. I keep myself in good shape. But I could see that with all
the walking and stuff that you do on campus, that could be a challenge to certain
people if they were even older than me, and I've seen some people that graduate
and they are much older than me. Just the physical thing of getting to class and
all that could be a problem. Luckily it's not my problem, but I could see where
that would be a problem. Again, incorporating the amount of time that it takes to
go to school within your family and all that, that could be a real problem too that's
something to consider, even if you're older. Like I say, the problems that I ran
into with my husband and my family, my brothers and sisters, when it started
intruding on their time, that's a problem. When you're younger you don't really
have that problem. I was thinking of going to Europe for one of the summer
programs that they have, and I know that's going to go over like a lead balloon
because I will be gone so long. So that's another problem to consider. Again, the
age thing is something; that might be just a problem for me though. I don't think
most people would feel too inhibited about being in class and participating a lot
more than I'm able to. The other thing is, I think you just always need a
cheerleader in life to say, you did a really good job and all that. If you return to
school at a later age, you might not have that; you might have to be your own
cheerleader. That's hard too.
A: Is there anything the university can do to better meet the needs of nontraditional
H: Well, I have thought about that, and I just wish that there was some class or a
group or something you could meet beforehand that you could hash these kind of
issues out, and even some that I probably haven't come in contact with. It just is
good to have somebody else that's going to experience, or has experienced, this
sort of change or decision in life. They could be your cheerleaders too. I had
thought that if there was some little class that you could go to and that you could
have these problems addressed and say, it's not a problem, because a lot of
times these problems are built up in your own mind, and I know that. But still, to
have them out in the open and discussed, I think, would be a great thing the
university could do for older nontraditional students.
A: Is there anything else that I should have asked you or a message you'd like to leave?
H: Well, the message is, for people that are returning to school, or even contemplating,
you're going to face a lot of things that you never thought of Some things I brought up,
[like] how to deal with the time that it's going to take, but returning to school after a gap
of working out in the real world gives you a perspective that you absolutely cannot get at
a younger age. I believe that and I would endorse that to anybody that wanted to do it.
They don't necessarily have to get a degree, but just take a few classes. That would be
my parting comment.
A: Well, thank you very much for meeting with me again. I enjoyed it for a second time.
H: Well, I enjoyed it too. Thank you Sarah.
[End of the interview.]