The Story of a Non-traditional Student

College is always an intimidating step in life. You are starting over for the first time, beginning the rest of your life. For many it’s the first time you’re off on your own. Your parents and the friends you’ve grown up with nowhere in sight. You’re on a campus with a bunch of fresh faces and the only thing being in common is your age. Now take age out of the equation. Try quitting your job and returning to school at 25 when a majority of your peers are still in their teens with fake IDs.

To be honest I never thought college would be for me, at least not a four-year university. When I graduated from my local technical college in the fall of 2009, I had no real plans to ever return. Why would I? I just wanted to work and make money, travel, and live. However, I quickly learned that an Associate in Arts wasn’t going to get me into a job doing exactly what I wanted to do. But then again, what did I want to do? I was still so unsure.

Before I knew it, I was working stacking lumber in a wood yard. And to make matters worse, it was in Newberry. I had become what I never thought imaginable, a loser, living at home, working a dead end job.

“This couldn’t be real could it?” – I would find myself asking day in and out.

Nothing was changing.

What I didn’t realize was things weren’t going to change until I MADE them change!

One night while doing the dishes and talking with my mother about all the chaos going on in my life she looked at me and said, “Quit your job. Go back to school. We’ll help you as much as we can.”

“I can do that?” I asked questioning everything.

“Yeah. Save up some money, quit, and go back to school.”

That night I went to bed thinking about how things were about to change; however, I prepared myself for the fact that they wouldn’t change right away. I had a few loose ends to tie up, plus I wanted to know exactly what I wanted to do when I returned to college.

The first thing on my list of ‘Making a New Me’ was ditch the idiot leech I had been with for two years. Sorry not sorry-we’re friends now and if you’re reading this, sorry but you were a leech! The second thing I needed to do was quit one of my two jobs. Oh did I not mention that before? Yeah at the time I was working two jobs. First a part time park job, which I had worked since 10th grade of high school and the second working at the wood processing plant full time. Now I didn’t leave the full time position but I did arrange my schedule so that I would be in the office four days a week. I also got a slight promotion working logistics as well as filling in on the floor. While you can take the guy out the park you can’t take the park out of the guy and because of this I began traveling to all 47 State Parks in South Carolina. Each park had some crazy thing to explore from lighthouses, castles, and beautiful mountain trails. Every weekend there was a new destination usually accompanied by my best friend, Carrie. Things were amazing. I was living this adventurous life, exploring new territories, trying new foods, and somewhere along the way I realized I was falling in love. No not with Carrie, with myself. It wasn’t something that I was completely aware of either; however, one weekend when Carrie couldn’t travel with me I decided to go on my own and for the first time in my 23 years of existence I actually enjoyed being alone.

I began documenting my travels. Taking video and photographs while I was on the road and then when I returned home, I would spend hours and days editing my adventure together. Then I created the avenue in which I would share. Enter, Operation Adventure, a production company and series dedicated to the every day adventurpreneur. Here I released my adventures, and my inspirations. I was creating a dialogue and maintaining it, not only with my friends, but also with people who had similar interest.

There for a while I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to leave my job. I was living the life I had always dreamed. I was traveling, I was telling stories, so what if I had to make four day sacrifices each week. Things were going better then they had ever gone before.

The universe, however, has a funny way of telling you it’s time to shake things up. For me it came in watching a show, which shot about four hours away. It had run for eight years and for those eight years, I massively hated on the show. (Yes I know, I know.) After a long week and coming down with a bad cold I decided not to embark on my weekend ritual of traveling. Instead I stayed in and indulged in Netflix. Flipping through the options only one thing looked interesting.

But I couldn’t watch it. Hell I had hated on it for years, why would I change my mind now… I’m not going to watch it… I’m not going to watch it…

Ok. FINE!! ONE TREE HILL, YOU WIN!!! Besides there’s no way in the world anyone will find out.

Naturally I became addicted. What’s not to love? I identified with Lucas for being a loner, Peyton because of her insane love and taste for music, and Brooke. Brooke was special. Despite not watching the show over the years I had followed Sophia Bush because I genuinely loved her worldly views and her passion for education. So Brooke, Brooke was special. I identified with her heart being hurt, creating a clothing line, and excelling at it when others didn’t believe in her. That was me I was her. I give a lot of credit to One Tree Hill because it was the final push that I needed to change the world I live it — in fact, when I hung with the cast last August, I made sure to tell them that!

Around September 2012 after a long day of work I came home to find a card from the Bridge Program at the University of South Carolina. During my time at tech I was enrolled in the bridge program, which was geared for students who wanted to continue their education at a four-year university.

Was this a sign? … Had to be!

I looked at the different majors listed at the University of South Carolina specifically in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, settling on Visual Communications. The next day, after work, I went to my old advisor’s office and asked if she could help me sort through the details and without hesitation, she did so (thanks Mirium!!) I had honestly put off college for so long because I was afraid of the courses I would have to take if I decided to pursue my educational career, such as History, Political Science, even Math! Yet as we compared the curriculum between the courses I had already taken versus the courses I needed, it was very clear that I didn’t have many basic courses to take. And better yet — NO MATH!!

That night I applied at the University of South Carolina.

But how would I do in a college setting after being employed and not in the classroom? When comparing curriculum I had noticed several courses such as two histories and a political science course were offered at tech. Things were becoming clearer and clearer. I’d continue to work through spring semester, however, would attend classes at night at tech and in August I would quit my job and become a full time student again.

And that is what I did.

Fast-forward seven months.

It was Spring Break and I decided to fly up to Washington, DC to explore with my best friend. While exploring Old Towne Alexandria, Brittney and I found a wishing well. She took out a few pennies and said, “Let’s make wishes.”

I smiled and said – on camera, “I wish for a magical weekend!”

She laughed at me at and replied, “You’re not suppose to tell. Now it’s not going to come true!”

But she was wrong. It was a magical weekend.

We returned to our hotel to take a nap and rest up for the night. When we woke a picture message greeted me. My sister was holding a package up with a three-letter word across the front from USC … It read YES!! I did it! I actually did it! I got into the University of South Carolina. Was this real life? It was and for the first time in my life things were about to finally make sense.

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I kept the news quiet, telling only my friends and loved ones, and began making plans for the next two years. One of the first people I told was my Nanny Joyce who had been encouraging me to go back to school ever since I had taken the job in Newberry. Even with 500 miles of distance between us, I could hear the smile on her face and that moment will always be with me.

In late July, I made the announcement that I would be leaving my job to return to school. That was the best two weeks notice I had ever given! Work didn’t ease up, but it didn’t intensify either, and on my last day at work I spent it with my friend, Moises. We laughed and chatted about the last three years. “You know Mike. Most people just go. They leave without giving notice. You’re the first person I’ve ever seen give notice here.” Moises said to me that day and to be honest I don’t think that I will ever forget them.

The following week I began school at the University of South Carolina in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. For the first time in a long time I didn’t know what to really expect. I knew absolutely no one and children who were in their late teens surrounded me. What is interesting though are the people who stuck out to me then, are the people I ended bonding with the most.

There was there girl who had these ridiculously cut bangs.

A woman who wore Wonder Woman chucks.

A guy who always cracked jokes and kept the mood up.

A girl with a thick country accent and sass to go along with it.

A photographer who grew up in the neighboring town.

Two global citizens, both activists, and one who also enjoyed This American Life.

And a girl, who changed her hair weekly, wore black, and always had her head in the clouds consumed by brilliant music.

After a few weeks of classes one classmate who I’m still really good friends with approached and asked/said, “Hey we’re going to 5 points this weekend. Do you have a fake? If so you should come!” Keep in mind I was 24 at the time and when I turned 25 a month later she commented on my Facebook wall and said, “Guess you don’t need a fake, old man!”

My goal when I entered school was to continue learning how to build my brand and that is exactly what I did. The first thing that I took advantage of was to learn how to build my very own webpage. Then I took all the content that I had been releasing and sharing over the years and built a nice multimedia platform. What’s funny is the fact I had been building multimedia packages over the last five years, I just didn’t know that’s what they were called.

Since I started at USC opportunities have only grown. In-fact I haven’t stopped working on projects since. In late 2013, I was apart of a team, which filmed a feature length science fiction thriller here in South Carolina. I filmed/starred in a web-series filmed in Columbia. Worked on multiple short films that have premiered worldwide. Directed and produced several short films of my own. And in the fall of 2015, I wrote, co-directed, and starred in a science fiction thriller.

It’s insanely crazy how things have changed over the last seven years. I have changed. For the first time in my life I have been excelling and actually feel apart of something bigger then just me.

Each semester has brought on various challenges and various achievements. In the spring of 2015 I produced a short film called, Wood: A Family Affair, which centered around a family of three generation loggers living in South Carolina. I also created an interactive multimedia site dedicated to urban exploration in Columbia, SC called The Urban Pilgrim Project. It includes gifs, which allowed the view to navigate through the world of urban exploration into the underground catacombs, an abandoned school, and the old Palmetto Compress Building.

Last fall I tackled another milestone by producing a short film about intersectionality called Even Further off the Straight and Narrow. What’s interesting about that piece was the fact that I partnered up with April, a classmate who was in a different class with the same professor, to produce this piece. When we pitched our professor the idea of merging what we were learning in two different classes to make the film, he immediately jumped onboard and even replied afterwards that he would be sharing it in other classes. Last semester I also teamed up with April to film a Doritos commercial for our Branding/Advertising class and on a whim, we decided to submit to the Student Ad Show. And guess what, we took home the Gold Award, which included a $100 split between the team members. Not only that several friends have sent me photos and videos from their classes as they repeatedly watch the commercial.

Projects over the last two years

Prelude to Infusco

Drifts

The Gullah Project

50%

Underground 13

Degrees of Guilt

Wood: A Family Affair

Urban Pilgrim Project

Even Further off the Straight and Narrow

Doritos Commerical

Operation Adventure

Alienography

Alienography: Greetings From the UFO Welcome Center

Podcast Series

Graduation is approaching. And now I am faced with the same realization I was faced with two years ago… I’m about to enter a world where I know absolutely no one and the possibilities are endless! However, I’m not going to lie. It’s scary knowing that I won’t have the comforts of school to fall back on everyday. Because despite being overwhelmed at times and annoyed at the work flow, I really do enjoy being in the classroom and having the sole privilege of consuming knowledge be my career.

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