The Day I Figured it Out

It took me 23 years to reach the finish line but I have finally done it. I don’t why I feel the need to set-up this journey with all the hurdles that I had to overcome, but if I am honest, it is to make me feel better about my situation. The year was 1994. The Internet as we know it didn’t exist. Online education was non-existent. Although we had counselors at school, mine gave up on my freshman year when I told her I did not want to major in human biology.  Keep this in mind.

Now, here’s my story. I was lucky enough to earn a swimming scholarship to Stanford University in 1990. I declared my major my freshman year, Communication. I knew I wanted to be on TV for as long as I dreamt of being in the Olympic Games. In March of 1992, I qualified for the Olympics in 4 individual events and a relay. One week later, our amazing Stanford team took home the NCAA Championship Title. One week after that, I gave up my eligibility, which is the old school way of saying, “turning pro”. And, trust me, I knew I was giving something up in a big way.

But let me get back to my point.

To fully set the stage, I was heading into the spring quarter of my sophomore year at Stanford, I was taking the minimum units required called an “Olympic Quarter” so that I could properly prepare for the honor of representing the USA in Barcelona. When I came back from the Games, I spent the first quarter of my junior year in Asia, doing spokesperson work. Once back at school for my winter quarter I started taking 15-20 units a quarter all while working to pay for school out of my own pocket and training. That story would continue for the next two years.  Everything was different.

Fast forward to the summer of 1994 and graduation day. I walked through my graduation ceremony only to receive a blank diploma carrier. Seriously, inside of it, instead of my diploma, was a piece of blue paper that read “RETURN TO THE REGISTRAR IMMEDIATELY”. It was what I deserved but it was a feeling that would stick with me for a long time. Not a good one. I stayed for a summer quarter taking 22 units but ended up 7 units shy of a degree. I moved to LA and immediately started auditioning for jobs and quickly landed a hosting gig for a show on MTV called “Sandblast”. Once that happened I knew physically heading back to Stanford campus to finish would be difficult (Roadblock 1), so I tried taking a class at UCLA. I forget the name of the class I walked into but as soon as the professor learned I was a non-matriculating student using the credits for Stanford, he somewhat politely said, “I can’t have a Stanford student taking a spot in this class.” I understood. Many students were fighting for space in classes to finish their degrees, just like me.  The only difference was, they were UCLA students. I, on the other hand, was at the bottom of the priority list. (Roadblock 2)

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Through every step of my life from 1994 till this past summer, I can honestly say there wasn’t a week that went by where I didn’t think about finishing my career. The Internet grew up and online learning is a huge business now. But, even still, this wasn’t easy. A few years ago I tried to take my last 7 credits through the University of Washington online curriculum but none of the classes matched up with Stanford courses. (Roadblock 3)

So, I waited. I knew online learning would get me to the finish line someday but I was anxious. I  also knew I couldn’t move to Palo Alto for 3 months with my family to finish my degree although there were days when I tried to figure out a commuting schedule. I became frustrated beyond belief. But then, I checked out the University of Utah’s online courses. To my delight, both my department at Stanford and the registrar’s office approved two of their Communications courses. (It’s important to note that this process took tons of the time and energy of many people within the Stanford Athletic Advisory Dept. to whom I am forever grateful. At one point during the process, I had waited a couple months to get approval and still hadn’t heard anything. So I called and they said, “It looks like they sent it to your old email address from school.” I quickly replied, “The internet wasn’t invented the last time I was in school!”)

Smooth sailing from here, right? Wrong. Because I was a non-matriculating student at the University of Utah, I had to wait to register for my classes a good two weeks after the University of Utah student body. Again, I got it, but again, I hit a roadblock. Here is how it went down. I put my date and time to register for classes into my iPhone calendar. It was during spring break last year and we were in Spain. The alert popped up at 11 pm. I was set up and all ready to go as soon as the clock struck 11. And as soon as I clicked my courses, they were full. (Roadblock 4)

I remember thinking that I was done. That was it. Was it really worth it to graduate? I felt defeated and helpless. And the overwhelming feeling I had was anger. I had a glass or 3 of wine with Erik and talked myself back to a more positive state. The plan going forward was to continue to check the classes as sometimes, they add additional spots. So, five times a day over the next week or so, I was checking the system for space, until one day, it magically worked. I was IN. At that moment I became the “mom in college” and it felt amazing!

And, once again, everything was different. Last time I was in school we used blue composition test booklets and lecture notes, but now, everything was on an online platform called Canvas. When I was a freshman, we felt very lucky because we got a “deal” on the Mac Classic. We only had to pay what felt like $10,000 for a square box that took a hard disc. I'm still trying to convince my Dad why it was a necessary purchase. Yes, things had changed quite a bit. But, I was grateful because I was learning the same way my kids were learning. I read every instruction about 15 times to make sure I got it right. I was NOT going to mess this up because I misunderstood a requirement. And, this time around, I was even more aware of the price of this education. $2673.56. I was not going to waste a cent!

Obviously, there were so many differences in terms of technology from the last time I attended school but the most profound difference was that I was a mom. My kids were a part of every step of this journey. And this story will give you a sense of the team effort it took. Right before the July 4th weekend, Skye wanted to go to a horse show in southern Utah. The way our family schedules worked, I was to take Skye and Spider with me to the horse show and then meet the rest of the family in Lake Powell for the holiday week. That meant that I would need to bring my homework with me in order to finish in the hotel at the horse show. After packing everyone up for the horse show and a week on Lake Powell, I forgot my computer charger. I didn’t realize this until I had the kids settled into bed at the hotel and I was ready to hunker down and do my homework. I fully panicked. I thought I had hit Roadblock 5. Being a mommy and a student was difficult. What was I going to do as my computer was on 6%. That is when my 11 year old named Skye Bella Schlopy came to the rescue. She calmly explained that if I turn my homework into a Google Doc, I could then email it to her and work off of her computer with it’s charger. I worked frantically, with tears streaming down my face, to send every document I would need. And just in the nick of time, I was in the clear. I worked well into the night and up until the last possible moment the next morning, with housekeeping breathing down my neck, but I finished the homework. And, I didn’t finish it by myself. My kids were my rock. The journey was ours.

That is why, when I submitted my final paper and took my last exam, I felt the need to celebrate with my family more than I ever felt in 1994. The first feeling I had, when I knew I had done it and my last 7 units were in the can, was a relief. The same exact feeling I had when I won my Olympic Gold medal. It’s not a bad feeling, it just means I had wanted it for a long time and I had finally achieved it. But the first person I needed to call was my dad.

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See, all along, part of me felt like I was finishing my degree for him. He wanted a Stanford degree for me in the worst way. But after all was said and done, I realized that I did it for myself. I wanted the graduation portfolio to include the real certificate. I wanted to officially be a part of the graduating class of 1994. And, I finally was. My grades, you ask.  Ahem…well, if I must, my last two classes were an A and an A+. Boom!

I am so incredibly thrilled that I have marked that milestone off of my list of MAJOR things to do. It is beautiful to say that. And, yet, it has inspired me to do more. This New Year’s I am going to rethink, “Improving myself”. Yes, I have always put my health and physical fitness at the top of my priority list, which is where they will remain, but my resolutions will be about broadening my horizons. What do I want to learn? What new activity do I want to try? What new adventure do I want to embark upon?  And I will do my best to practice what I preach…If it scares you, you should do it!

So to you 2018, I say...Bring It On!