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Going Back to School - 20 Years later

It seems like only yesterday when I went to my father with my plan to take the second semester of my freshman year off - and resume classes the following fall. That was more than 20 years ago. I never went back.

Instead, I worked full time, earned my own money, and traveled. I became successful in spite of the fact that I didn't finish college. Over the years, I took some accounting and computer classes, which made me more valuable as an employee. I was proud that I lived on my own and was able to support myself comfortably. I enjoyed the luxury of buying not only the things I needed, but also the things I wanted.

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Then, the 1990s began. Words like "budget reductions," "downsizing," and "redesign" became common. I became aware of their impact in 1994. With only two weeks' notice, I was placed in a different position within the company I had worked at for more than eight years - at a 30-percent decrease in salary.

I left the company, and my search to find comparable employment was discouraging. I quickly learned that I wouldn't find what I was looking for because I didn't have a degree. Eventually, I decided that it was time to recommit to my goal of finishing college.

Returning to school has proved to be a very rewarding experience. I am currently enrolled in a bachelor of science degree in the management program at Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass. I learn a great deal from the classes and textbooks and get an equal amount of learning from discussions with teachers and classmates. Lesley offers a unique approach and self-directed learning is a key component. In lieu of tests, students submit papers related to class subjects. It sounds easier than testing, but it is actually more difficult putting theory into your own words. Keeping yourself motivated takes a great deal of discipline. I love it and am doing well.

As adults, my classmates and I want to be there and look forward to our time together in class. We understand the cost of an education and have a desire to learn as much as we possibly can. At the School of Management, communication is a priority and emphasis is placed on writing and public speaking.

I used to ask myself where would I find the time to go to school among all the other responsibilities I have as an adult. But you adjust and make the time because you learn to love learning. I also used to ask myself how would I be able to afford this. Now I tell myself I can't afford not to do this.

I've come to realize several things. First, there is and will be no real job security. Gone are the days of uniting with an employer and remaining there for 10 years or more. Second, whether I am self-employed or employed by someone else, I must take responsibility for my education, skills, and training. This will increase my confidence, decisionmaking abilities, and flexibility. People should try to think of themselves as a business separate from any company that may employ them. This concept of acting as a "free agent" will be at the forefront of the next decade.

I urge any adults who haven't finished their education or haven't taken skills-refresher courses recently to do so now. Don't wait until you find yourself in a difficult situation or with your back against a wall. Take the necessary steps today to ensure your future.

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I have come to live by a wonderful saying by Oliver Wendell Holmes:

"I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving. We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it - but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor."

* Cindy Hawes, a part-time student at Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass., also works at BankBoston.

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