Saturday, September 20, 2008

The College in the Woods, Part II

I walked out of the building, into the sunshine. According to the map, there would be a path coming out of the side of the building and going around to the back, then going straight for a while until I took a turn right into a parking lot, then another path that would take me to the academic building (that had the school of education in it).
I saw the path right away. It went on down the green hill in back of the building into the trees. So I followed along it, and down into the wooded ravine. The path went down and then right back up again, up a steep steep hill, to sunshine at the top. Such a lovely steep hill! Right up through the trees! So I went up, and found the parking lot I needed to cross, and followed the path to the academic building.
Inside the doors is a large statue of Thomas Aquinas. I rather felt as though I ought to curtsey to him. But I just sort of nodded my head, because there were others in the hallway. I expect eventually I will just do whatever comes into my head without bothering about other people. Then I had to try and figure out how to get upstairs to where the school of education was on the second floor. There weren’t any stairs in the middle of the building where I came in. I thought I remembered there being stairs at the very end of the hall from when I was in that building before for seminars, so I walked all the way down to the end of the hall, feigning confidence.
Sure enough, stairs at the end of the building. So I went up them, and came out on the second floor. There was a bulletin board there, at the top of the stairs, with a 8x11 paper posted on it talking about the Hruby Scholarship. For Continuing Education students! I read it rapidly. The application deadline for this semester had passed, but maybe I could apply for next year! I continued down the hall to the Education office.
They were very friendly there. After I told them my story, they told me that I was right about not needing to come to them, but they gave me good information. They told me that the Hruby Scholarship was by semester, and applications for the spring semester weren’t due until December 15th. They gave me an application for it, and the number of a lady who I could call if I had any questions. And they told me I should talk to an academic advisor. So I thanked them very much, and departed for the Music building.
By now I felt as though I had walked into a fairytale, for sure. The magic was back and swirling around me, and I was following steps as though on a quest, collecting things along the way, each place directing me farther along. I forgot to mention at the beginning that when I was there before, I had bought a smooth green stone, aventurine (which the professor selling them had misspelled “adventurine”), and considered it my adventuring stone. It had broken, but for this quest I tied the pieces in a corner of a handkerchief and had them with me in my purse. (I don’t like carrying purses, but my little bag broke for the fifth or sixth time, so my sister has loaned me her Eeyore purse. Since it’s Eeyore, I can tolerate it.) Whenever I felt nervous, I reached in my purse and felt it through the handkerchief.
The music building was a strange place, filled with lots of odd student art and twisty hallways and no signs telling me where the offices were. I think I walked down nearly every hallway before I finally found it.
I went in a little shyly. There was a man sitting in a chair in the corner just inside the door, a lean, kind-faced man with a brown beard and mustache that gave him a faintly farmer-ish look. I walked across the small room to where a woman who looked about in her fifties sat at a desk. She had a soft, warm look that made me less nervous. I came in, and told her my story. When I was partway through, the man in the corner broke in with friendly incredulity,
“Twenty years old and you already have a bachelor’s degree? I want to see proof.”
Grinning, I pulled out my transcripts and waved them at him.
“Oh, she has it with her!” laughed the woman. The man laughed too.
I told the woman that I was also interested in possibly working there, at the college. She gave me both the number for the head of the music department and the human resources manager. She also gave me directions to the HR offices so I could go and talk to someone there if I wanted. I thanked her very much, and went back out of the building in search of it. I was a little turned around at first.
The inside of the building where HR was located was not at all what I was expecting. The entrance hall was two stories high, all dark wood, all ornate with rich dark colors. I remember the impression of swirling carvings and a fireplace, but I couldn’t tell you if that was really there or just the atmosphere the place evoked. A young woman was sitting at a desk just inside the door, and after staring around in awe for a moment, I turned to her and asked where HR was located. She directed me to the second floor. The staircase was wood and stone and turning up and up. The building was three stories high, and even though HR was on the second floor I continued to the top, and peeked in the door. It was the history offices. I went back down to the 2nd floor door and slipped in. There was no one at the receiving desk, and although there was a grey-haired man in the office he appeared very busy at his computer and I didn’t dare disturb him. But I was in an exploring mood now, the magic of the place having gotten into me, and I wandered on down the hall.
Suddenly, on the left, I came to a doorway labeled “Brenda Henning, Adult Ed. Recruitment”. Well! Since I was an adult student on a quest to be recruited, perhaps I should stop in and see her.
I went in shyly. She was a youngish woman with buoyant, tightly curled brown hair and a bright fushia shirt. Encouraged by her non-standoffish demeanor, I said, with more boldness than I felt,
“Hello. I was actually here in search of HR, but when I wandered down the hall I saw your sign, and since I’m an adult student considering being recruited I thought I should stop by.”
She welcomed me cheerfully, and I told my story yet again.
From that moment it was as though she turned into my fairy godmother. Everything came together. She gave me a packet of information, and cherries from her desk, and was very pleased with me when each time she recommended I talk to someone, I revealed that I had either already talked to them or had their number amidst my papers.
“Well, you’ve done all the right things!” She was so encouraging and bright – and she had worked on the Disney College Program before! – and enthusiastic about me coming, and she gave me more information about the Hruby scholarship and told me to call her if I wanted to know anything at all about it or wanted any advice. I had an ally.
It was just after one o’clock now, and time for me to get home. I had another quest to complete before the day’s end – this one with more imagination, and with friends to come along for the ride. She bid me farewell with all her blessings, and I went back down the beautiful cornering stairs and out of the awe-ful entrance hall, talking to the woman at the desk on the way out – “Do you get used to working in such a beautiful place? Does it just seem normal to you?” “Maybe a little. But I enjoy being here. It really is a beautiful building.” And then walking back to where my car is parked and off to stop home for a bite to eat.

And thence, to my dear friend’s house, and 300 or so years into the future…

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The College in the Woods, Part I

I do not know where I am going, so I have to go one step at a time, wherever seems right. And as I contemplated over the summer where I was to go next, I could not stop thinking of the College in the Woods. I had been there for a conference for teaching that I had to go to for my old school. I expected that the conference would be frightfully dull. But after I parked in a small parking lot entirely surrounded by trees, and walked up a steep tumbling flight of concrete steps, and completed the first announcement/opening time (which was dull), I found that the rest of the day consisted of wandering from interesting seminar to interesting seminar, finding my way between beautiful old brick buildings and along wooded paths. Gardens appeared unexpectedly in odd places. It was a rainy day, and everywhere was dim and mysterious and softly dripping leaves. Once when I came out of a seminar classroom, I saw an old bearded man wearing a gray cloak go out of the building.
The place felt like magic and fairytales. And when I thought about what I wanted to do this fall, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I decided that I would explore the idea and see how far it went. I went online to their website and signed up for a campus visit appointment. They called me back, and after some muddling about when people were available and where I should come, it wound up with me showing up at the registrar’s desk at eleven o’clock on a Tuesday morning, armed with my transcripts, to attempt to explain myself and see if they could help me.
I told my story, for the first of many times that day, to a friendly round-faced curly haired lady at the desk.
“Okay, here goes. I am twenty years old, and a year and a half ago I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Ed with a science major – I started early. Then I went and worked at Disney World for a school year, and now I’m back and trying to figure out what I’m doing next. I don’t feel ready to move away somewhere and teach, and I still want to learn more. And there are so many things I love to do. I’m considering going back to school for a second bachelor’s degree in theatre or music, but I don’t have any money. So – I’m exploring my options.”
She gave me several instructions of where to go and who to speak with: the financial aid office, just down the hall; the school of education, in another building (no matter how many times I told her I wasn’t interested in further education classes at this point); and the music and theatre departments in yet other buildings. She also gave me the number for their office so I could call them to set up an appointment with an academic advisor after I talked to the departments, as well as a map of the campus.
I went to the financial aid office first, since it was so close, and told the thin-faced, brown haired lady at the desk,
“I am wondering what financial aid, if any, is available to someone looking to get a second bachelor’s degree.”
“You can go right in to your left and talk to Mary,” she said promptly and courteously. So I went through the door into Mary’s office.
Mary was a tallish, slender woman with short gray hair and a demeanor that was an odd combination of businesslike and grandmotherly. I repeated my query to her, and she kindly and regretfully informed me that the only financial aid available to me would be loans. She gave me a pink sheet of paper about them, and recommended that I meet with an academic advisor. I knew I wanted to do that, so I went back to the registrar’s office to ask about it. But the lady insisted that I talk to the school of education first.
Well, in fairytales, it is always a good idea to follow instructions, no matter how silly it seems (unless, of course, someone else has previously warned you not to.) So I examined the map to see how to get to the building that the school of education was in. She gave me directions for driving, but I was certainly not going to miss walking around this lovely place. I had to know whether the magic was still here. Was the magic of that day a one-time, one-moment thing, the kind of piece of dream you can never get back; you return and find it empty? Or would it still be here, waiting for me?