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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Taking a fortunate educational detour through a pandemic
Megan Williamson in the Grand Teton National Park on October 7, 2020 (Photo: Meegan Williamson/[email protected])

It’s 4 p.m. I am sitting through the last few minutes of a Zoom meeting for The Express staff.  My day started at 9 a.m. with my public speaking class, and I have done work for each of my other classes in between then and now, eating lunch at my desk and leaving a few minutes “between classes” to use the restroom, make a phone call, refill my water, or even just give my pets some needed attention. 

I am 46 years old and taking 18 units this semester at City College.  

Realistically speaking, this is my third time as a returning student, having attended four community colleges in almost 29 years. I can thank the pandemic for my latest return to education.  For the past 20 years I have been working for an airline. I fell into the airline industry by accident and have been with the same company ever since. My career in the airline industry has allowed me to enjoy two of my favorite hobbies: travel and photography. Someone once asked me what I would do if I could no longer work in the airline industry. I had a hard time coming up with an answer. It actually hit me while watching a movie about a travel photographer that if I knew it could pay the bills, I would be a travel photographer.  

Well, guess what? With the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, I found myself in a situation where I was not required to work. My company offered voluntary leaves of absence with full benefits (including travel) and partial pay. After 20 years and feeling a little burned out, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Though the pandemic imposed many limitations on everyone, I wanted to be productive with my time.  

Given my seniority, I knew I wouldn’t likely lose my job, but the question kept coming back to me: “What would you do if you could no longer work in the airline industry?” Since I already had my answer, I thought about how I could begin to work on my dream career. I didn’t know anything about the photography business, but I knew I liked taking pictures. I enrolled in the fall 2020 semester at City College in Beginning Digital Photography. After looking at the requirements for an A.A. in photography and realizing I couldn’t take more classes because of the prerequisites, I decided to work on fulfilling my transfer requirements.

Enrolling was the easy part. I enrolled in 15 units, leaving me only one more GE requirement and nothing but photography courses for the next semester. The hard part? I haven’t been in school in over 20 years, and, like millions of students across the country, never have I done distance learning. I knew this was going to be a big adjustment. Not only was it scary, but I also found it exciting. I could do my schooling anywhere as long as I had a good internet connection, my laptop and my class materials.  

By sheer luck, I had landed in all asynchronous classes. With that kind of freedom, I knew that I would also have to have a good amount of discipline and some kind of system. I ended up creating a blocked schedule on a digital planner, allowing me ample time for each class. I treated it as my job, only with more flexibility. Four days a week I would “go to school” from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. If I ended up not needing all the blocked time, I’d have more free time. The hardest part about this was making up any missed time in the same week if I chose to do something else.  

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Spring 2021 semester I ran into something new: the synchronous class. This brought up another unique thing for me, the returning student. When I looked at all the faces on Zoom in my final GE class, Introduction to Public Speaking, I quickly realized that I was the oldest student in class. At first I felt out of place, almost as if I didn’t belong there. But now, five weeks in, the weirdness has gone away and been replaced with this knowledge: Though I may stand out because of my age, I have a lot of life behind me that other students don’t, and I’m able to offer insights from my experience.  

Overall, I’ve come to enjoy the distance learning setup. Because of the flexibility I have been able to work from a cabin at Lake Tahoe and take a road trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, doing school work from the hotel at night and taking photos for my portfolio during the day. I’ve read my textbook on a sparsely populated beach in sunny Florida during the off season, and best of all, from the comfort of my home.

Chasing the alpenglow at sunrise at the Moulton Barn in Grand Teton National Park on October 6, 2020 (Photo by Meegan Williamson/[email protected])

I know the pandemic has had a huge impact, mostly negative, on a lot of families. For me, it was a blessing in disguise. It has led me down a new path that I may never have taken. This semester in my Marketing and Self Promotion for Photographers class, I am publishing a live photography website that will soon be up and running. I look forward to sharing my photos with the world.

I read a quote from author and motivational speaker Les Brown the other day that perfectly fits me: “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” 

I’m so grateful to be doing both.

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