Guest Viewpoint: Life can take you back to school

When I arrived at the large lecture hall in Lalumiere, I sat in the back corner. I didn’t wish to stand out. As I situated myself in the seemingly too small seat, I attempted, desperately, not to feel like an utter knob. How did this table top pull down to make a desk? A bead of sweat broke out as I maneuvered it into place. As each student began filing in, I shifted uncomfortably.

After a 20-year hiatus, I was going back to school. As I received more than one curious glance from the impossible parade of baby-faces, I chose to doodle in my notebook, rather than make eye contact. What was I doing here?

When I was baby-faced, I’d just graduated from the Commercial Art program at Madison Area Technical College. I was impatient, idealistic and raring to get out and see the world. I’d always been curious about the West Coast, so I set my sights on Sacramento, Calif.

I’d gotten my feet wet while attending school in Madtown. I wrote articles and did layout work for the Feminist Voices Newspaper. I’d been a fill-in public radio operator at WORT.

With my portfolio proudly in hand, I was ready to make a professional cannonball in the pool. I had it in my head I’d be some sort of artist/actress/writer in all of her expressionistic glory.

But things don’t always go as planned. I was on the cusp of the computer graphics movement of the ‘90s. Everything I’d done was executed painstakingly by hand. After a first few tries at showing my portfolio around, I was memorably told by one potential employer, “That’s really nice work, but everything’s being done on computers now. Maybe you should go back to school for another four years.”

Since then I’ve lived in Chicago, where I made some independent film shorts that ran the festival circuit. I had my own theater troupe. I was married and divorced. I picked Milwaukee after burning out on the Windy City.

While here, I’ve acted for theater, commercials and film. I’ve had an e-book published online and written for local publications. I was invited to coach a children’s acting workshop at Marquette. I loved it and found myself drawn to the campus.

So in 2010, I applied to a few different places and chose Marquette on instinct and the school’s reputation. I was at a turning point and knew that I was destined for more than slogging through the rest of my years in a customer service or administration position to pay the bills.

Now I am happily pursuing a journalism degree. I’ve learned that your own life’s path can have many a detour in the road, and you have to quickly adapt. If you let your goals change as you do, it can open up a whole new adventure trail of opportunities.

I’ve gotten more used to being one of the “older women” on campus (I have been making hair appointments often to hide the gray). But the next time you spot one of we mature students toting a book bag and hustling off to class in your midst, please stay as open-minded as we are striving to be.

Remember, if you talk to one of us, we might have something to teach you as well, in the way of real-world experience.

By Colleen DuVall

Special to the Tribune