Joyful Life Changes

By Susan Harvey

Through the years, I’ve encountered several life-changing events: marriage, childbirth, divorce, surgeries. All of these events included other people or their actions, but the one event that made the most dramatic change in my life involved only me – earning a college degree.

In the summer of 1990, I took my younger daughter to her freshman orientation at Virginia Tech, my first time on the campus. I was in the middle of divorce negotiations, and Virginia Tech was a four-hour drive from our home near Richmond, so my daughter and I made the trip by ourselves.

I was surprised at the size and beauty of the campus and the old stone buildings. I learned that the large gray blocks used for the campus buildings are called Hokie Stone, a form of limestone native to the Appalachian Mountains. I had plenty of time to wander the campus between seminars held for parents of first-year students.

During an afternoon break, I settled myself on a beach towel under a large tree at the edge of the Drill Field and contemplated my life after divorce. For the first time since having children, I envied my daughters. I wanted to go to college, to study and learn, to earn a degree. For several years, I had wanted more from life than being a wife and mother. More than a job – I wanted a career.

As I thumbed through the pamphlets on Virginia Tech, glanced through the Student Handbook, and perused the degree programs, I knew what I wanted to do. Under the shade of the oak tree, I decided on college. Reading the history of Hokie Stone confirmed my decision.

According to the information supplied by Virginia Tech, the formation of this limestone was an earth-shaking event. Just the thought of entering college made the earth shake for me, both from fear and anticipation. For Hokie Stone, a continental drift forced the coastal plains of Africa and North America to collide, creating wrinkled layers of faults and folds. At age forty-four and facing divorce, I felt as though I had collided with something as large as Africa. I certainly had wrinkles and layers of faults and folds. As these layers of limestone were pushed toward the earth’s surface, they formed the stone that distinguishes Virginia Tech today. Earning my college degrees pushed me to new limits and created the person I am today.

Just as environmental changes caused the color variations of Hokie Stone, I experienced the change of moving back to my hometown, applying first to the University of South Carolina and then for financial aid. The pinkish color of Hokie Stone resulted from their formation during an era when the region faced a desert-like climate that had a bleaching effect on the rocks. Many times during my college days, I felt as though I were stranded in a desert without water or companionship – all alone to face the research, reading, writing and exams of college.

The darker gray and black colors in Hokie Stone come from a time of swampy and wetter conditions. During my graduate studies, I felt overwhelmed with the workload. I taught two undergraduate classes and maintained office hours during the day. At night, I took three graduate courses. I prepared class assignments, quizzes, exams and essays and graded them. I read three novels, sometimes five, each week as well as selecting and researching topics for an essay in each of my three classes. Most of the time, I felt as though I were stuck in swampy quicksand, struggling to keep from drowning in the muck.

Despite the problems, the setbacks and the feelings of insecurity, I finally achieved my goal of higher education and a rewarding career. As I look back on that day under the tree at Virginia Tech and remember the beauty Hokie Stone creates at the University, I know that my education created in me the inner beauty of self-confidence. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t attend Virginia Tech. Then I remember that my daughter was a student there, and I didn’t want to cramp her style as a first year college student – nor she mine as a newly-divorced college student.

About this writer

  • Susan Harvey Susan Harvey is a humor writer who teaches college English. She lives in Murrells Inlet, and in her spare time enjoys cooking and reading mysteries.

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