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Winter 2001 Home

North 40





Postpaid Inspiration

by Linda Cahillane


Illustration by Cynthia Fisher

I’ve made a list of things to accomplish before I die. They’re not particularly spectacular or difficult to achieve: learn to play the piano, learn Spanish, travel to Europe, finish my degree.

     First, I’ll need to replace the piano I finally sold last year after lugging it around for over 30 years. Obviously, I was determined to learn to play it, since I did bother to drag it with me that long. Before my last move I finally decided that it wasn’t worth it any more – after being stored improperly one winter it was beyond fixing. But I know I’ll replace it, as my list is unchangeable.

     I do watch the Spanish channel on TV whenever I get the chance, and I swear I’m starting to recognize some of those words. As for traveling to Europe, I’ve got a big bank shaped like a crayon that doesn’t make a hollow clinking sound anymore when I dump my change into it; that’s my travel bank, and I’m not touching that money until I’ve got the plane tickets to Italy in my hand.

     Which leaves the last task on my list, the one I’ve actually done something about. Last year, at the age of 41, I was accepted into the University Without Walls. I’m going to finally pull together all those credits earned in fits and starts over the years at the local community colleges and apply them towards a BA.

     The people at UWW are incredibly understanding and helpful. They know the issues facing “grown-ups” in college are quite different from the typical problems an incoming freshman will encounter. They hold your hand, they gently guide you through the bureaucratic maze. They’re really, really nice to you, and, they let you take your first two classes with people just like you: the ones with kids, houses, careers, and lots of gray hair.

     Then you’re let out onto the campus to mingle with the student body. If you’re like me and skipped all the Gen Eds you could when you went to college the first time, you get to be in lots of freshman classes. Now, that’s culture shock. I’m old enough to be the mother of most of these students. I have to stop myself offering tissues to anyone who sits close to me and has a sniffle. Though when they wear T-shirts and shorts in 40-degree weather? Who cares, they’re adults, I’m not responsible for them.

     I often wonder what they think of me. I know what I’m thinking of them: I’m admiring their tenacity. Sure, some of them won’t make it, some will start and stop, but many will graduate.

     In my job as classnotes editor, I get to read about the accomplishments and the contributions of all of these incredibly smart and talented people who’ve done just that. Graduates do make an impact on the world, and I’m lucky to be in a position where those successes are shared with me and eventually the campus community. The bulk of the notes come in on the handy little postage-paid reply cards we bind into the magazine. The writers know they have finite space to sum up four or five years of their lives; the neat packaging of what amounts to years of hard work, countless relationships, and much growth and change was the catalyst for me to once again attempt to complete my degree.

     Phrases like, “Those were the best four years of my life,” “My best friendships were made at UMass,” and “It was a lot of hard work, but it was worth it,” are expressed over and over. How could you not be inspired? I want to tell current students not to give up, it will be worth all the hard work. If they don’t believe it – and for those moments when I doubt it myself – I have stacks of cards to prove it.

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