A Few Things I didn’t Know I Would Learn When I Went back to School After 30…

In my early twenties I swore I would never go back to school. It was expensive, exclusionary, and seemed to only teach perspectives that were at odds with my culture. My career at the time did not require a degree, so unless a future employer was going to pay my tuition or a grant fell into my lap, there was no way I could see myself attending.

Yet fast-forward fifteen years and there I am, packing up my life to go back to school. No magical grant came my way. I actually quit my position of seven years to move 3,000 miles away to attend school in Los Angeles, my hometown. The reasons why I went back were illogical. Of course I expected to broaden my knowledge base, challenge conventional modes of thinking, and excel in my chosen field. But ultimately, I just needed to shake things up. Somehow, I ended up with a few unexpected benefits by going back.

  1. I discovered I have a better sense of self.
    Back in high school and into my twenties I disagreed with some of the things I was taught, but I had trouble finding my voice. I did not feel comfortable debating a topic with my classmates or teachers. As an older student, I have confidence in my perspective. I enjoy discussing topics; I can disagree but have an open mind to potentially change my mind.
  2. I am excited about new friendships.
    When I was younger I could be friendly with people from different walks of life, or out of my political and social viewpoints. But not until I went back to school did I notice I truly enjoyed the company of other people. Relationships fade as we get older, and—outside of work—very few places exist to forge new friendships. Once again in an educational setting, I empathized with the struggles other individuals faced and crossed paths with all types of different people. In the process of cultivating a circle of friends, I  also discovered, what was for me, a new kind of relationship: the professional acquaintance. These are people who I could catch up with monthly or even yearly, and, to this day, we go out of our way to help each other out professionally.
  3. School is ridiculously expensive—but it doesn’t have to be.
    I should have listened to my twenty-something self and explored grant options or scholarships before diving in. There is money out there. As I was unemployed, one year into school, and anxiously spilling my financial woes to the Dean of my department, she suggested a few scholarships I was eligible for. Two months later, I was $2,000 richer… or less poor to be accurate. I did not realize it could be so simple!

A final thing I learned is that more women and men are returning to school. Everyone has their own list of reasons why they stopped and reasons why they returned. In fact, the majority of my classroom was over forty years of age. As a group, we found ourselves each balancing challenges; for me it was full-time employment. For others, it was young children, but we all shared the experience of having waited to return to school. And for that reason, we could offer unique support to one another. I am thrilled to have had the experience.

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Maria Elena Hewett

Maria Elena Hewett

Maria Elena Hewett, MANM, grew up in West Hollywood, California. She works in operations in the field of supportive housing. Her recent experience with education is serving as a youth mentor at various art organizations and urban farms, supporting visual art, music, performance, and agriculture as a viable career choices for young people. She serves on the Young Professional Advisory Board for Los Angeles Music and Arts School in Boyle Heights and is active in the arts community. She has seen the transformative power of art and food as a way to explore alternatives to dominant narratives and create social change.

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