A Toast To Allen, On His Graduation from College
I’m sure you’ve seen the t-shirts that say, “College: the best seven years of my life.” Usually those shirts are meant to denote frat boys or girls who took a little extra time with college because they were partying too hard. Well, Allen could wear that t-shirt truly, but for a far different reason. He’s been in college for seven years, but it hasn’t been on account of too many games of beer pong and not enough time in class. Allen is the quintessential picture of a man who has worked his way through school. For a while he was able to go full time, taking as many credits as he could, but there were semesters and even years where part time was all he could manage. Why? He was also working full time to support himself. I was privileged to go to a four year private school with a hefty price tag (although of course I’m still paying it off and will be for several more years), and I had the full college experience. Lived in a dorm every year, went to dances and parties, participated in sports and extracurriculars, gained the freshman 15 on cafeteria food, worked 10 hours a week at a federal work study job, and of course, participated in classes and wrote a LOT of papers. I loved my time at St. John’s and wouldn’t trade it in, but I no longer say that I worked my way through college in the same sense that I now understand it.
I’m here to sing the praises of a hard-working man. He’s actually too modest—believe it or not—to tell you all about it, so I will. When Allen and I met, he was probably about beginning of year sophomore standing in terms of credits. He’d been taking classes at PCC and was working on getting his associates degree so he could then go on to get his bachelors, his masters, and his PhD. His dream was to be an archaeologist in the Middle East, and I’m sure he would have given Indiana Jones a run for his money in the whole “sexy and daring archaeologist” field. As we started dating and getting serious, he began to feel that that was the dream of a single man, not a married man; and for some odd reason, he wanted to be a married man. So, we got married, and he started to change his focus to something closer to home, but perhaps still majoring in anthropology. We had it all figured out: he’d finish his associates degree, transfer to PSU, get his bachelors, perhaps start a masters, and then we’d start our family. Then it turned out we had already started our family and Ruby was going to arrive a few years ahead of schedule. Allen feverishly completed as many credits as he could manage before she was born, knowing school was going to be put on the back burner when she arrived. He was on track to enter PSU in the fall of 2010, and it would all work perfectly, as long as I kept working full time for a few more years. But Allen knew that my heart no longer was fully invested in my classroom, as it had been before; he knew that I didn’t want to be the primary breadwinner for the next three or four years while my baby grew up in someone else’s arms. And so, on a hot July day in 2010, Allen made a very sacrificial decision: instead of pursuing his own education and finishing his degree at PSU, he would instead seek full time work and fit school in around the edges. It was a really hard decision for him to make, and I watched him wrestle with it. He already felt a bit like the slow learner in the family, since his younger brother was set to achieve his Masters degree by the time he turned 21 and his sister was going to have her associates when she turned 18, and he had neither and was 22. Now he had to face the idea that it might take him years to complete his degree while he worked in jobs that held little enjoyment for him, simply so he could pay the bills and his wife could be happy. But that is what he did. I worked full time that year, but when he found a job in March of 2011, I was able to cut back to part time and stay home with my kids more during the following year.
Allen received his associate’s degree from PCC the same month that he found his new job, but going to school to complete his degree seemed an impossibility as long as he was working full time. And when we found out that summer that I was pregnant with our second child, I’m sure that the academic finish line seemed even further away. Besides, what kind of guy is crazy enough to try to be in school while working 40 hours a week, being a married man, and having one and then two small children at home to care for? Oh, this guy.
Allen enrolled in the Warner Pacific Adult Degree Program in October of 2011. He attended school one night a week for a four hour class. Almost every week brought with it scores of pages to read, study group sessions to attend, and usually multiple papers to write. On top of that, Allen was working 4 10 hour days at Interstate Rentals, and on his days off, he was watching the kids, trying to keep the house from being a disaster zone, and being mentally present for his wife. I really don’t know how he did it all…and with straight As, too. That’s right, you’re looking at a cum laude candidate (although Warner Pacific forgot to mention it at graduation today, grrr). I don’t think he missed a single class, not even the week that Max was born. Max was born on a Sunday afternoon, and by the following Wednesday Allen was back to school again.
I am proud of all the work that Allen put into his education, and proud that he forged new friendships during his time at Warner with his learning team and some people from his cohort. I’m proud of his intellectual growth and how much he learned from his coursework, and I enjoyed hearing about what he was learning and tossing ideas around with him. But I am most proud of how he persevered until he saw his goal completed, with all of the challenges that most college students have and a whole host of others that they don’t.
So raise your glasses to my hard-working, intelligent, good-looking, and successful husband, Allen James Cook.