She Believed She Could So She Did

These photos were taken on my first day of exams. Of spring semester.  Of my penultimate year in engineering school. For a degree that's been 10 years (and counting) in the making.

I'll be 28 later this year. Seven years ago this month - where did the time go? - I donned a black graduation robe with Virginia Tech emblems on the seals. A white tassel hung from my matching cap to signify my newly-minted liberal arts degree (I had no hood since my school only uses those for advanced degrees - that would come a year later, in a light blue shade). I attended two ceremonies, one on Worsham Field at Lane Stadium where I watched Hoda Kotb (a fellow VT alumna!) give her commencement speech on the Jumbotron; a second one followed the next morning, when I shook hands with my favorite professor and advisor as he handed me the hardest-earned (and most expensive) piece of paper I'd ever received.


A week later I started graduate school, just a few buildings away from where most of my undergraduate courses had been held. Another year passed and at 21, I found myself with two degrees framed and hung on my wall, the tickets I'd been waiting to receive and cash in so that real life could begin. "Real life" turned out to be a short stint as a part-time daycare worker, an even shorter stint as a tutor, and a longer period of unemployment than I would like to admit. But when the clouds eventually parted, I finally got to put those two degrees to good use. That is, until I decided not to anymore.

Safe to say, studying until after midnight is not exactly how I always imagined I'd spend my nights at closer to 30 than 20. Most days I don't question my choice, but I would be lying if I said there aren't some days I have a mini panic attack over the fact that it's been nearly a decade since I first went to college and I have no professional prowess to show for it. No full-time job (unless a full-time class schedule or my internship count), no steady paycheck, no promotions, no business attire, nothing. Just a couple of expensive pieces of paper, a lot of money paid to the Virginia Tech bursar (but thankfully no student loans), and a blip on my radar from the time I was a real life, working adult like everyone else I know.


I don't know why it's so hard for me to remember back to those days. It was only two years ago that I turned in my resignation from teaching, but it already feels like a lifetime. Maybe because I had had a foot out the door for a year before that, and had already started taking classes to bridge the gap between my old and new degrees. I tend to downplay my teaching career, but that's what it was. Not a job, a career. It might have only been 3 years, but it taught me all kinds of valuable professional and life lessons (it's true, just ask anyone who's interviewed me in the last 2 years because I've surely told them so).

My teaching career might not have lasted as long as a career is supposed to, but it's what go me to the path I'm on today. I'm not claiming to have been the best, most inspiring teacher by any means, but I wanted nothing more than for my students to succeed. I wanted them to know that they could do anything - anything! - that they wanted to with their lives. I always loved this time of the school year - as crazy and stressful and busy as it was wrapping up the school year, it was equally exciting watching my students turn into little adults, diplomas in hand, ready to tackle whatever the world gave them.


Something happened to me during those 3 years. I'll never know if it just a timing coincidence, or if it was really because of those amazing kids, some of whom are already better people than I could ever dream of being, but I learned just as much during my time as a teacher as I hope they learned from me. I grew from a timid young adult unsure of her place in the world to a woman who has more confidence about who she is and what she wants from life than she ever could have imagined.

I always knew my kids could do anything they believed they could do, and now I know that's true for myself as well. As hard as it is to believe that it's been 7 years since I finished my first degree, it's even harder to believe that I'll be finished with this one in less than a year from now. Going back to school has been hard. Engineering school in particular is really hard. I've had nights I've thrown my hands up in surrender and cried from frustration. Despite those crying fits, I've never stopped believing I could do it, that I'll make it to the end. There are even harder times ahead of me, I know, but if there's one thing I've proven to myself over the last few years to be absolutely true, it's this: I believe I can so I will.



15 comments :

  1. what a beautiful post. you sound like you were an amazing teacher :) i'm glad you decided to do something for yourself though, and i can't believe you are going to be finished so soon! how excitement. and don't worry, being a real life adult is not all it's cracked up to be ;) but seriously, i am older than you, and i am one class away from my first degree because it was too hard, i tried 3 times and (gasp) failed.. so i gave up. how's that for embarrassing? i will finish it one day, but jeez.. by 28 one should at least have one degree. oh well. have a good weekend!
    ps adorable outfit. love it. and your hair too. i want mine to do that.

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  2. You're superwoman. Seriously! Look at all you've accomplished. I'm so proud of you :) I know those kids learned so much from you!!

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  3. bah i loved this. i have loved (sorry for the lack of commenting!) how open you have been lately. it has been so fun and inspiring to hear more about YOU though i love your work out stuff too. i need to have a serious session where i find a quiet place and hash out my next big dreams. i thought grad school would square a lot of it away but i still find myself confused and discontent at times. maybe engineering school is for me too? ;) just kidding, i would go back and turn my english minor into an english major and somehow make it big as an editor.

    THANK YOU for being open and letting us get to know you a bit more- sorry it is so one sided in our case!!

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  4. Absolutely! Congrats on one more semester down!

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  5. This is inspiring to me. I'm 43 & thinking of going back to school.... its a lot of mindset of knowing you can achieve your dreams.

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  6. Oh, Tracy! I love this post so much. I love how inspiring you are to me just by being you, being the person you naturally and unapologetically are. I am constantly in awe of not only the incredible things you accomplish, but your attitude throughout the journeys there and your unwavering commitment to your goals. I've learned so much from YOU in just the last year, and I can pretty certainly say those three years' worth of kids must have had a pretty special experience, having you to guide them. And I know that once you're fully immersed in the next career you enter, you will shine there as well. Because you do—you shine. And I'm so happy I get to stand as close to the glow as I get to. Cannot wait to see you in ONE WEEK! <3
    (PS, I've been wanting to know forever—HOW did you finish your bachelor's at age 20 and your master's at 21?!)

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  7. Girl I get you on a deep and spiritual level. These last two semesters of undergrad work (getting pre-reqs out of the way for a completely different masters degree than my bachelors) were hard on a number of levels, not the least of which was me looking around and saying "I"M SO OLD" like 3 times a week. But I have learned that all our paths are so different and I am so thankful for the path my life has taken to get me where I am and so looking forward to starting my masters program in the fall.

    You gots this Engineering thing!!

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  8. Loved every word of this! Also, high five for almost being finished with school AGAIN. My parents have tried so hard to get me to go back for my EdS, but I just can't stomach the thought of more school at this point. I struggled too hard while getting my master's. I can't imagine living like that again. It was the worst.

    But seriously. You are awesome. And while I fully believe you had to have been an amazing teacher, I also appreciate knowing you are working towards something you want even more. There's nothing more frustrating to me than seeing a teacher in the classroom who is GOOD at it but doesn't want to do it anymore. It's the ultimate set up for burnout. And no one benefits from that - especially not the students.

    Confession: My two degrees are in the envelope they were mailed in.. somewhere in my house. I've never even framed them. What's wrong with me?!

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  9. You're outfit is so cute! I know I said that already (where did I see this outfit before? Instagram?) anyway. Super cute. Congrats on almost finishing. I am always impressed by people who go back to school to get more degrees. Strangely, for someone who actually enjoyed school, I never had a desire (still don't!) to go back for more. Hopefully I won't have to. Then again, I'm one of the rare ones who knew what they wanted to major in and are using that degree in a career. Either way, you should find something to do that you LOVE, so I'm glad you're doing just that!

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  10. I'm with Erin! I've loved your more open blog posts lately!! Makes me want to do it too…just need to actually sit down and not get distracted when writing blog posts :) I think all the matters is that you're working towards exactly what you want to be doing now! It's not a rule to get it "right" the first time. I feel like in America it's more stressed to go to school, get that degree, and then start working right away whereas in Europe and other places they stress learning as much as you can. Some of the people Peter works with who are in their late 20s just finished school and are in this job trying to figure out what they want to do next. I wouldn't say what I'm doing now is my passion but I also don't wake up hating work so I'm good with where I'm at right now but we'll see where life takes me too!

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  11. Beautiful words, Tracy :) You WILL get to the end and it will be amazing! You inspire me so much for sticking with your grad program among all the other things you do!

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  12. This is amazing! You are so inspiring!!

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  13. This is such a beautifully written post Tracy! I've been off the blogging radar for a while but I'm glad I caught this post. It's a short phrase but the truth is we have so much more power than we ever give ourselves credit for! X

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  14. This is such a great post! I love how you speak about teaching and the path you took. It might take you 10 yeas to complete your degree but that path is really what made you who you are today and thats just a beautiful inspiring human that Im so glad I "met". Yay for completing exams I know it must be such a relief - take some time to enjoy it even with the internship!

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  15. I love that you are working towards achieving your engineering degree. You had the courage to take the road less often traveled with going back and you are rocking it! Much like you are rocking that outfit. I sit here at 31 and really have no path for my career. I appreciate and am good with the job I have now, but there is really no where for me to grow to. I often ponder what it is I would do instead and I dont really have an answer. I would love to own my own boutique or something...but that isn't even in the least bit realistic..you know? Anyways. You sure can do whatever you believe you can!!! I am so proud of you :)

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