College in My Thirties — Continuing to Pursue the Dream — Part Three— A Light In the Dark

The “thirtysomethings” are typically the time in a lot of people’s lives where they are established in their career or chosen path in life. They’re perhaps continuing to do what they can to excel or move up. Then there are those of us who may not quite be there yet. Perhaps we’re established, but starting something new. Or in my case, finishing something I began over 15 years ago. No matter the circumstance, everyone has their own story to tell, and this one is mine.

A Very Long Interlude Ends

Me standing next to a wooden fence in the woods of a nature trail.
This photo was taken on March 11, 2020. The next day, a lot began to change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m so blessed I got to spend a beautiful day with some amazing people.

When I began this series on sharing my journey of pursuing my education, I had no idea what was going to be coming in the weeks following my first two articles. The COVID-19 Pandemic became the focus of our lives and has changed so much in the last year since I last wrote about my “new” college days. 

I’ve had many people who read the first and second articles reach out to me and ask why I left everyone on a cliffhanger and stopped writing. To be completely honest, the answer is COVID-19. I got so wrapped up in all the chaos surrounding that, I just forgot about my blog. 

It’s now one year to the day since my last article, and I’m gonna pick up where I left off and continue the journey. Here we go!

There’s nothing like the desire to be involved in something so badly, but it still be just outside your reach. In 2018, that’s where I was in my journey to earning a university degree. It was so close and yet so very far. 

By 2018, I had explored almost every possible avenue I could think of, or find on Google, to try and go back to school online for an online journalism degree. With the debt I owed, and the previous school holding my transcripts, there were just no options without me paying completely out of pocket for a certificate program. This was money I didn’t have. 

Then one morning, in 2018 at a team meeting at work, an announcement was made that would get the gears turning and change everything for the better!

RELATED: College In My Thirties – Continuing to Pursue the Dream – PART ONE – Dreams Are Hard to Make Into Reality

Aspirations to Be Achieved

Beginning that fall, Disney would begin what was to be known as the Disney Aspire program. Previously, in order for coursework to be covered, there were all sorts of restrictions and hoops you had to jump through. It had been set up as more of a reimbursement program. I had always been so fearful of the ins and outs, I had never taken advantage of it. 

I’ve always been a firm believer in “everything happens for a reason,” and my fear of that reimbursement program was definitely for good reason. Why? Well, with this new program, tuition would be covered up front! 

My jaw was on the floor! I could go back to school without any more loans? Stop!

I will never forget that day when Disney Aspire was announced. It was like something clicked. A light turned on all the way down at the end of that dark tunnel I had been stuck in for years. It was faint, but the light said, “Ok Caleb, it’s your time. Let’s do this!”

Graphic of a cartoon male face looking delightfully surprised with quote by Caleb, "I could go back to school without any more loans?!"

Now, I’m well aware that not all employers offer tuition payment programs. So, I don’t want this to ever seem like I am tooting my own horn here because I’m privy to this benefit. I just simply want to share my story of pursuing my education in hope that the challenges I have faced will help to encourage others who may be, or have been in the same boat as me. Don’t give up, because you never know what opportunities may arise! 

Finding the Light

Once more information became available for the schools participating in this new program, I immediately began doing research. My conclusion presented two obstacles were in my path at the time the program went live. 

The first being, at the start, there wasn’t really a program available that suited my desire of pursuing journalism in any form other than a general communication degree. This was not what I wanted. 

Second obstacle being, I still owed this money to this school that was holding my transcript. 

Ok, how do I maneuver this obstacle course?

RELATED: College In My Thirties – Continuing to Pursue the Dream – PART TWO – Lost In the Wilderness

I began making calls and learned there would be more programs added throughout the first year and beyond to this new program. It would always be growing. I found hope that eventually, something that better suited my goals would be available. Great!

Next, and the most important thing; figure out how to get that debt paid so I can finally get this show on the road.

I immediately began to put my plan into action. I set a goal of getting back into classes by the 2019 fall semester. This gave me about a year to get that $1200 paid. I could do this!

Having finally grown up and gotten my finances a little better organized, I set up a plan with the collection agency that had my debt to get it paid off in plenty of time to begin attending classes by my goal. 

Things really began to pick up speed at that point. 

Wherever I could spare money, I would set it aside to pay towards that $1200. I even took a couple of performing gigs on the side to get some extra income to put towards the payments.

Tunnel with sunlight at the end and quotes from Caleb, "two obstacles were in my path" and "how do I maneuver this obstacle course?"

The nice thing about this process, was I didn’t have to completely wait until the debt was paid to get the ball rolling. I was able to go ahead and get my application for the program underway while I waited for a degree to be added I was interested in.

There was even an expo I attended to get more information about all the benefits of this incredible new program. They even used a photo I posted from this event on social media to advertise!

Not long after, I finally found a program pop up that I felt would work for me. It was fully online and would get me some journalism training. The school was Wilmington University, based in Delaware. The degree was a Bachelor of Science in Media Communications. 

I knew at the time this may be the closest I would ever get to being able to get a journalism degree online, so I began my application. 

After that, everything was a bit of a whirlwind. I applied and was accepted to Wilmington. I paid off the remainder of my debt thanks to a two-week stint as the Tin Man at the Land of Oz Theme Park in North Carolina, and immediately had my transcript sent to my new school. 

Next thing I knew, I was registered for the second block of classes which started in the middle of the 2019 fall semester. I was back in school! 

All of the time and effort I had put into getting back to my education had finally paid off. I was doing it. I had found the light in the dark, and oh how bright it was!

The thing about lights though, sometimes they can be so bright you feel blinded.

To be continued…

Part Four – Back In Class – Coming Soon!

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