Dreams Are Possible at Any Age
By Donna Humphrey
One of the hardest conversations I ever had with my mother was a few weeks before I graduated from high school. We were walking around our neighborhood, and when I told her I would not be going to college, she began to cry. Seeing her tears, I felt like an incredible disappointment.
Yet, school had never been easy for me. I struggled through elementary and secondary school and had a difficult time with reading comprehension, maintaining focus, and self-regulation. School was boring and difficult, and I did not like being told what to do.
I worked as a certified nurse’s aide during my senior year of high school and at times dreamt of being a doctor. However, once I realized how many more years of school I would need, being a doctor was no longer a consideration. As my classmates talked about what college they planned to attend, I stayed quiet. I took typing, accounting, and shorthand in hopes I could at least use my secretarial skills to find a job.
By the end of my senior year in 1985, I was just happy to be graduating.
After learning some of my friends would be attending University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I made the decision to enroll too, in hopes of lessening my mother’s disappointment. However, my educational career at UNLV was short, lasting only two semesters. I enjoyed the social aspect of college—football and basketball games, fraternity parties, dances—but not the academics. It was difficult to sit in a classroom and be lectured at for an hour or more, especially after being out until the wee hours the night before. Needless to say, I was not ready to attend college. So, I dropped out and joined the United States Air force at 19 years old.
To my surprise, basic training was similar to school, with the added hardship of a lot of physical fitness and daily reprimands. I still resisted authority, and I daydreamed of ways I could escape. But eventually, I became used to the structure and today can admit it was where I learned how to be a leader, work as a team, work hard, and take direction.
Eventually, I was stationed at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield. There, I met a fellow military member and after only knowing each other for three months, we married. The personnel at Travis Air Force Base 60th Supply Unit became part of my family. It seemed like I had found my niche.
But after having my first child, family became my focus and I decided to leave the military. Over the next four years we had two more children and most of my time was spent raising Jennifer, Andrew, and Alyssa and meeting their needs. Between odd jobs—cleaning houses, running an in-home daycare, and working at McDonald’s—I tried to squeeze in community college courses. I loved the first class I took in child development and continued taking courses that sounded interesting to me, like sports medicine, yoga, and psychology of women.
Then, in 2003 when I started working at as an administrative assistant at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, I realized my conversation topics were limited to the military and raising children. As I listened to faculty and staff around me have enlightened conversations on myriad topics, I couldn’t keep up—but I wanted to. So, I decided to go back to school.
I was working full time at UC Davis, going through a divorce, raising teens, and coming out, but I managed to graduate with my associate’s degree in liberal arts at age 41. My mom—who never doubted in me—was proud of me, even though she was unable to attend commencement.
I decided to continue my studies at Davis, focusing on women’s and gender studies. But the reading was so dense, the conversations so theoretical, and my fellow students just so different from myself, I just could not connect. At times, I thought of giving up, but instead I left to attend the University of Phoenix.
I landed in a cohort of 15 to 20 people who varied in age, life experience, ethnicities, and culture. I had found my peers! I also completed 300 internship hours at VITAS Hospice in Sacramento, Stonewall Alliance, and the Shalom Free Clinic in Chico. These invaluable experiences were just what I needed to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in human services in 2013. Naturally, my mother, was there to watch me cross the stage and become the first in our immediate family to earn a four-year degree.
But I wasn’t done yet! After I was hired at the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Chico State, I set my sights on my master’s degree. For the last two and a half years, I was not only a student but worked full time, married my wife, Betsy, and welcomed three grandchildren into our lives.
Because of my struggles in school, I decided to create a project (Educating Teachers about Diverse Families: A Workshop for Transitional Kindergarten–12th Grade Teachers) for my thesis. And this Thursday, at 51 years old, I will graduate with my master’s degree in education with a specialty in curriculum and instruction this Thursday.
My path was not always easy, but it was incredibly worth it. My family, friends, and colleagues have been a fantastic support system and I am excited that they will be at my graduation. And perhaps no one is more proud than my mother, who is driving out from Colorado for the celebration.
I am happy to say that I feel that I have found my passion in education and am finished getting degrees. As C.S. Lewis beautifully stated, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
Donna Humphrey has worked as the office coordinator in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion since 2014.