Last night I found myself thinking a lot about my biggest regret. I’m not really sure why, other than that it’s on the list of blog post prompts I accumulated for this month. It’s not something I dwell on often, but it’s definitely where my mind jumps when the topic of regrets pops up somewhere. My biggest regret is pretty simple: not finishing my college experience and getting the degrees I wanted at Edgewood College, where I started. (Photo of my freshman dorm because I apparently never took a picture of any other part of campus.)
In high school I worked really hard and got fantastic grades. That’s such a weird time in your life where your academic achievements really define who you are. And those definitions stick with you, like it or not. It’s probably the reason I still feel so much regret, 13 years later. When I started looking for colleges, I knew I wanted to go private. I wanted something small and personal that wouldn’t be overwhelming to me. I also didn’t want to stray too far because Greg was a year older than me and at UW Madison. We had already been together for 3.5 years at that point and had no desire to risk losing our relationship. So I landed on Edgewood. It was close to Greg, it was close to home, and it had everything I wanted. I knew right from the start that I was going to double major in English Writing and Graphic Design and I formed the perfect plan getting all my general studies and most of my English classes done in the first two years and saving up the best and most exciting Graphic Design classes for my final year. I took a few summer classes and would have definitely graduated a semester early. Maybe even a year if I had pushed it a tiny bit more.
Unfortunately, my lack of patience and desperation got in the way of me following through on the plan. Halfway through my sophomore year, on our 5th anniversary together, Greg proposed. We were young, for sure. But also, five years together without a permanent promise was hard for me to swallow. So at the age of 20, we were engaged. That summer, Greg took an internship in Minnesota that was sure to guarantee him a full time job right after he graduated the following year. Graduation that would have happened eight months earlier than mine in December. I didn’t want to wait that long to get married. I didn’t want to get married and then live apart for eight months. We were so stupid. I was stupid for not seeing the ways we could have worked around this extremely brief period of time in the grand scheme of our lives.
To be fair, I didn’t just up and drop out of college after all I had worked for. I researched Minnesota colleges that I could transfer to. I took the steps for transfer and was accepted into the very prestigious Minneapolis College of Art and Design, with plans to complete my Graphic Design degree, which was sure to land me a myriad of career opportunities, especially in such a large city. I remember being SO proud of myself for getting into MCAD. When I told my friends and teachers that I was transferring they were proud of me too. It was a big deal.
So with the transfer set in place for the following fall, I finished up at Edgewood in the middle of my junior year and went back home for the next six months to work, save money, and plan out all the wedding details. That was Greg’s last semester of college and we got married two weeks after he graduated and immediately moved to Minnesota.
That summer is when all my hopes and dreams fell apart. We got my financial aid package for MCAD and finally realized that wow, this is an EXTREMELY expensive school. I already had a massive amount of loans from Edgewood and I didn’t have anyone to cosign on any more. Greg just started his job and didn’t have the solid employment history they needed to guarantee that we’d pay. With many, many tears, I had to drop out before I even began.
What should have been the happiest time of my life – newly married and finally with the man I waited six and a half years for – ended up being so hard. I was in a new state with no friends, no way to graduate with the degrees I identified so strongly with, no career options or even a job. In hindsight, I was such an idiot! We could have still gotten married when we did in May. We could have spent the summer together and I could have lived with my parents that one final semester, one of us driving every weekend so we could still be together. It would have been a whopping three and a half months of inconvenience and I would have graduated, gotten a real career, and probably had a drastically different life than I do now. And it’s not that I hate my life now, but there’s always that niggling wonder at the back of my mind how it could have been different if I had just stayed the course. I’m definitely sad that I wasn’t able to finish at MCAD either, but Edgewood would have clearly been the simplest and easiest option! I loved it there. And I loved both of my intended degrees equally. I will always, always regret my haste to jump into wedded bliss, thinking there was no viable option for finishing what I had started. It didn’t have to be one or the other. But I couldn’t see that then.
Anyway. In the Rachel Hollis movie last week, she pointed out that you should always give yourself credit for how far you have come. I’m happy to say that I do not regret never getting a degree, because I did. I never gave up completely, it just didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. Later that summer I enrolled at an online art school and graduated with a certificate in Graphic Design. I’m not sure a certificate would have ever landed me a life changing career, but it did give me more experience. I also had to take a lot of self-employed type business courses, which maybe trickled down and are helping me now. I was still so discouraged that I didn’t have a degree to show for all my work – and money! – so when I finished my certificate I was able to enroll with an online degree completion course through UMass Boston. For two years I worked so hard in all my extra time and finally graduated with a real bachelor’s degree in Community Studies. And that last semester I had a newborn to boot, so it felt like quite an accomplishment.
I’m proud of myself for never giving up. I’m glad that I have a degree, even though I’m not using it. But I will always regret not finishing at Edgewood with the degrees I dreamed about my entire life.