Since moving to Wyoming some two years ago, I found that the local community college will let us Senior Citizens take classes, tuition-free. Since the only alternative was going to work, I decided to take advantage of the offer and try to keep the few remaining little gray cells sharp. I began college in 1968, and, with a short hiatus to serve gallantly on the Frontiers of Democracy as a Trained Marine Killer-Typist, continued until about 1973, changing my major some eight times. When the GI benefits ran out, I was forced to work, and soon the years had passed and I was married, working fulltime, and had a wife and four kids at home. Close to the time I turned 40, I developed an interest in zoology, and began taking classes at the nearby Northeast Louisiana University (now University of Monroe-Louisiana). I was able to take vacation from work by the hour, and managed to squeeze in most of the junior- and senior-level courses needed for the zoology degree, although my schedule would not allow me to take a few of the more lengthy and basic courses–stuff like freshman chemistry, and some maths. After a couple years, I found I had accumulated about 180 undergraduate hours, across a vast array of unrelated topics. The kind folks at NLU gently suggested that I accept a degree in “general studies” and go home. I did so. Over the years, it’s always rankled that I hadn’t gotten a “real” degree in science, but I was getting a good deal of satisfaction from my amateur entomology projects, even managing to get a few papers published in prestigious and semi-respectable journals. Wyoming boasts only ONE public four-year institution, the University of Wyoming, in Laramie, a couple hundred miles away, so classes there were out of the question. When I, at age 62, decided to take the classes at Central Wyoming College two years ago, I expected the institution to be a glorified trade school–teaching welding and culinary arts and the like. I was delighted and surprised to find a really nice, modern, and vibrant college, with a wide range of programs, and with many of its students earning their associates (two-year) degrees, then transferring to UW for further study. The Wind River Indian Reservation lies just outside our town, and is home to a large number of Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribal members. As I have had absolutely NO experience with native American folk, I signed up for a class on “The Indians of the Wind River” alongside a microbiology course. At the end of the semester, I knew a LOT about Indian history, and a fair amount about bacteria, lab procedures, DNA testing, and Ebola, among other cool stuff.
About that time, I decided I might as well enroll in the formal degree program in biology, thinking that a coveted Bachelor of General Studies degree (zoology minor) PLUS an Associates degree in Biology would probably be the equivalent of a bachelor’s in biology. I did notice that the curriculum required a class in trigonometry, which caused a great deal of righteous and understandable panic. The prerequisite was “college algebra”, which I proudly announced that I’d already taken, earning a “B”. “WHEN did you take algebra?” “1969.” “You probably need to re-take it, since calculators have been invented since then.” College today is MUCH different than in 1969, or even 1991, when I got my BGS. Much of the work and assignments are online or computer-based. The most difficult part of microbiology was learning how to use PowerPoint for a presentation, instead of just using flipcharts and the blackboard…er…whiteboard. So…I took the algebra, primarily online, and with a graphing calculator with enough computing power to send a man to the moon. Got out with a “C”, and damned glad to get it. THEN, I muddled through trig, in summer school, also online, spending three to four hours a DAY, and squeezing out a “B”, thanks to the patience and mercy of Professor Whitmore. Thanks, Valerie. Then, a couple more biology classes, followed by TWO semesters of chemistry. Sure are a lot more elements today than when I last took chemistry at Mer Rouge High School in about 1966. Back then, we only had earth, fire, water, and air. Again, with the help of great lab partners and the EXTREMELY patient Dr. Finney, finished everything up this May.
So… I was cleared to graduate. Getting an associates degree was not a real big deal, in the Grand Scheme of Things, especially in the household I share with a Master of Education, so I was just gonna have them mail the diploma. Everybody I talked to, however, asked me, “Are you gonna walk?” This seems to be a Wyoming expression meaning, “Are you gonna actually show up for the graduation ceremony?” The more I thought about it, the more I realized just what a NICE little school Central Wyoming College really is. They have a brand-new, state-of-the-art science building, whose facilities I’d enjoyed for two years, great and knowledgeable and caring instructors, and I’d made a lot of friends there. I decided to go through with the pagentry as a way of showing my appreciation to the folks at CWC, and thanking them for their help and dedication. Drove over for gradution practice. There were about 200 of us, and MANY of the graduates were the first in their families to ever receive a college degree. Another older cowboyish guy (but not as old as I) was in front of me in the practice line. “Do I have to wear this stupid hat?”, he asked the official. “Yes”. He grumbled. On the night of graduation, we all showed up, resplendent in our caps and gowns, with the orange tassels. The school colors are orange-and-something, and I was afraid the GOWNS would be orange. The cowboy was there. He’d solved the problem nicely by wearing his best cowboy hat, with the tassel attached to the side. Several of my friends were Shoshone or Arapaho. Amber, one of my chemistry lab partners, was there, as was Jerel, also from the chemistry class. Jerel, along with many of the Indian graduates, had added a tribal feather to his cap, alongside the tassel.
So, we sat and stood, and marched and “walked”. When I went up to get my diploma, I couldn’t help telling the college president, “You don’t look old enough to be president. I’ve got CLOTHES older than you are.” He laughed. As we left the auditorium and entered the foyer of the building, we were surprised to see the ENTIRE faculty lined up, in two rows that we passed through, clapping and cheering wildly. I thought that was pretty cool. I stopped to talk to my professors. “Steve”, I said to my biology instructor/advisor, “if I were getting a doctorate, and returned to do more work, that’d be called ‘post-doc’. Since I’ve gotten my ASSOCIATES degree, I guess any work I do now would be ‘post-ASS’, right?” “George,” he said, without missing a beat, “you’ve been doing that for two years already.”