College in My Thirties — Continuing to Pursue the Dream — Part Two— Lost In The Wilderness

Caleb Graham
Mar 5 · 6 min read
One of the things that’s nice about Florida this time of the year is the beautiful weather. I love enjoying walks around the lake behind my office on breaks.

The “thirtysomethings” are typically the time in a lot of people’s lives where they are established in their career or chosen path in life. They’re perhaps continuing to do what they can to excel or move up in life. Then there are those of us who may not quite be there yet. Perhaps we’re established but starting something new. Or in my case finishing something I began 15 years ago. No matter the circumstance, everyone has their own story to tell, and this one is mine.

After I completed the summer semester online in 2015, I was on cloud nine. The “Interviewing & Information” class I took was a huge success. At this point, I had visited the campus of the university I wanted to attend in Alabama, met with some of my potential professors and been given a tour of the facilities in the journalism building.

I was so excited to take a few more classes online in the fall, finish up things at Disney over the holiday season and after Christmas return to Alabama to get ready to attend classes in person in January.

After a grave mistake on my part involving financial aid, come October I was no longer enrolled in the school, and I owed around $1200 for a class I was never going to see on my transcript.

I was devastated.

I didn’t have $1200 to pay off what I owed. Having made plans to leave Florida after Christmas, my lease at the house I was living in had not been renewed and was expiring at the end of December. My roommates had already made plans for a new place at the end of the year. The only thing I still had at that point was my job, my car and my stuff.

There was no time to have a pity party. Decisions had to be made.

I quickly realized there was only one option that really made sense.

Stay put!

So I did. I made the choice to once again put school on hold and stay in Florida. It was a bittersweet decision because I wasn’t completely distraught at the idea of staying at Disney because I still very much enjoyed being here, I just was very sad I had made such a stupid mistake that had cost me being in school.

Luckily, I was able to find a place to live at the last minute and things began to not feel so bleak. One thing that didn’t happen this time around was, I never stopped thinking about school. What I did forget about was that $1200.

At the end of 2015, I moved from the home I had lived in for three years. A couple of months later, I moved again… I was also quite busy with work and with traveling so I sort of forgot about school for a few months. About 8 months or so after the incident with the withdrawal I decided it was time to start looking into options once again for completing my education. I landed on the decision of searching for a program where I could get a journalism degree online and continue to stay in Florida while I finished my degree.

Being lost in a wilderness makes you feel like you never will see an end to your troubles.

Have you ever heard the song, “Lost In The Wilderness” from the musical Children of Eden? If you haven’t I would highly recommend it. One, because it’s a great song. Two, because it’s sort of like what the next several years were like for me.

In the song, you hear how these characters from the Bible are wandering. Not sure where to turn. Never quite certain what they need to do or where they need to go. It’s a lot of back and forth with no results.

Little did I know at the time this is what it was going to be like for me.

In mid-2016, there were little to no schools that offered any type of degree online with the type of classes I was looking for. Journalism was very much what I wanted to study, and the pickings were basically non-existent.

After a few months of searching, I finally found an online program where I could get a communication degree with an emphasis on journalism. I was elated.

By this point, I had spoken with a couple of real-life journalists to get their thoughts on a plan of action I should take that would allow me to continue working full-time and do school as a side hustle. Most of them told me my degree was very important, but it didn’t necessarily have to be a journalism degree. As long as I was getting some sort of training in the field, it would speak volumes when looking to get jobs later on.

I couldn’t wait to get started again. By now, I was thirsting for knowledge. School had always been something I felt like I had to do, but for the first time, it was something I wanted to do.

Applications were sent in. Online requests via the magical transcript website were complete. Now I just wait.

Not long after the initial application, I received a pre-acceptance letter pending the rest of my transcripts and documents.

As the days went by, I would get updates via email saying this document had been received. That document had been received and so on. A week or so went by and I never got any more emails. A few more days go by and it happens. I get an email telling me to please submit my transcript from the university I had attended last year.

I immediately think to myself. “That’s weird, I sent in that request to them.”

A phone call was made. Reality was put into check.

Come to find out, my transcript wasn’t sent because my account was on lockdown due to an outstanding balance from the previous school year. I was reminded then of how I had made a mistake with my financial aid that last year, had no money to pay for the class I was in but was offered the compromise of getting out of the class without an “F,” still being charged.

My first question to them, of course, was, “May I at least have an unofficial transcript so I can begin classes at my new school?”

“No,” the representative said.

I then ask about maybe setting up a payment plan. I begin to panic and try to think of anything I can do.

The kicker here?

Since I had made no payment by the end of the semester of the class, the bill had been sent to a collections agency.

I hung up the phone and felt lost.

How on earth was I going to be able to pay off this money and continue my education?

One might think a $1200 bill wouldn’t be that much of a struggle to pay off. Sadly for me, it was. At the time, I was living in an apartment that was too expensive for me, and I was barely making enough money to get my car payment and insurance each month. Not to mention all the other life expenses one must contend with.

For the next two years, I very much was wandering through the wilderness. Lots of life circumstances and problems occupied a lot of my time and in some cases drained my savings. I would do my best to save pennies here and there, sometimes literally, in order to start making some type of payment toward this debt. It always seemed as if it would never happen.

I yearned so much for an education I began taking free open online classes that were not really worth anything much, but it at least gave me a resource to read and study about the material I was interested in.

At one point I even tried to get on at a for-profit school here in Orlando but learned quickly it wasn’t going to be what I wanted it to be.

Everywhere I turned I would reach dead ends and even though I was making small payments on the school debt when I was able to it just seemed so far out of reach. I truly felt lost.

Then one morning in 2018 at a team meeting at work, an announcement was made that would get the gears turning and change everything for the better!

To be continued…

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