From GED to PhD
“My Gutsy Story®” by Laurie Buchanan
Following thirteen months behind my only sibling’s footsteps was hard. Really hard. From elementary school on, Julie was a glowing student. Barely having to crack a book, she absorbed, digested, and understood information seemingly by osmosis, and had fun doing it.
She maintained straight A’s throughout her academic career, was listed on every honor roll, was valedictorian of her graduating class, and earned a scholarship to San Diego State University. I, on the other hand, struggled to maintain a C average and ran away from home at the age of fifteen.
Let’s take a moment and rewind…
I thought I was stupid. Compared to my sister, it certainly appeared that way. However, it wasn’t until many years later I discovered that I learn in a different way from how I was being taught. There are three learning styles:
- Auditory learners grasp things by hearing them—the worst test type for them is reading passages and writing answers about them in a timed test. They’re best at writing responses to lectures they’ve heard. They’re also good at oral exams.
- Visual learners comprehend through seeing them—the worst test type for them is listen and respond. They’re best at diagramming, reading maps, essays (if they’ve studied using an outline), and showing a process.
- Tactile (kinesthetic) learners understand through experiencing/doing them—the worst test type for them is lengthy tests and essays. They’re best at short definitions, fill in the blanks, and multiple choice.
The general teaching population when I was in school were auditory teachers. As a heavily tactile learner, with a smidgen of visual thrown in for good measure, I was missing the boat!
When you run away from home, you also run away from school. Had I done any advance planning—which I had not—I would have known that if you leave high school before you graduate, you can’t test for a GED—General Education Diploma—until two years after your graduating class.
“Why not?” I asked. The firm, but polite career counselor at Clark College, the local junior college in Vancouver, Washington—a few states from home—explained that if that particular stop-gap measure weren’t in place, every high school student would jump ship early.
I had lied about my age and was working at Fred Meyer, a large, everything-under-one-roof store. Over the next few years I worked my way up to managing the women’s wear department, then added men’s wear, and topped it off with furniture.
During this window of time I was gaining valuable life experience. Part of this seat-of-the-pants wisdom was learning to say, “I don’t understand. Can you please explain it differently?” And then I noticed that no matter how many times someone “told” me, it wasn’t until they “showed” me that I got it! When shown, I not only met, but exceeded what was expected of me.
Managing all of those departments wasn’t enough to keep my mind fully occupied. If testing for the GED was out of the question at that time, I wanted to know if they’d at least let me take CLEP tests (College Level Examination Program) so I’d be ready to hit the ground running at the junior college level once I had my diploma in hand. The same polite, but firm career counselor I’d spoken with before explained, “That program is for high school graduates and people who’ve already earned their GED.”
I’d left high school as a sophomore in 1973. Four long years I waited and prepared to take the GED examination. On a hot day in late June of 1977, with the cut-grass tang of summer in the air, I slipped into a front row seat at the testing center; one of about twenty other people enveloped in the sterile classroom setting. The examiner explained that talking was expressly prohibited.
The all-day test was given in seven parts: Language Arts (writing)—50 questions, 75 minutes. Language Arts (reading) 40 questions, 65 minutes. Social Studies—50 questions, 70 minutes. Science—50 questions, 80 minutes. Math (calculator allowed)—25 questions, 45 minutes. Math (calculator not allowed)—25 questions, 45 minutes. US Constitution—45 questions, 60 minutes.
Head high with a face-splitting grin, I left the facility with every confidence that I’d aced the test. Six weeks later I received my GED certificate in the mail. And that was just the beginning. Over time I earned my associates degree, then bachelors, followed by a masters degree. Finally, two weeks before my fiftieth birthday, I sat and defended my PhD thesis.
Hard-wired for buoyancy and tenacious as a terrier, when I set my mind on something I go after it with tremendous resolve. It took a while, but I eventually went from GED to PhD.
You might be wondering why I ran away from home. Ah, that’s another story…
LAURIE BUCHANAN BIO:
Board Certified with the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, Laurie Buchanan is a holistic health practitioner and transformation life coach. With the philosophy of “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing,” Laurie works with the whole person, helping them turn intention into action; bridging the gap between where they are, and where they want to be — body, mind, and spirit. Please join Laurie on Twitter @HolEssence, and please like her on Facebook.
SONIA MARSH SAYS: I know your story will motivate someone to keep going with their education. I remember struggling to “memorize” certain subjects in school, without understanding the concepts. Congratulations on getting your PhD., and not giving up.
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VOTING for your favorite December 2013 stories starts on January 2nd, 2014, and ends on January 15th. The WINNER is announced on January 16th. Please check out all our December stories with Marian Beaman and Fee Johnson, Ian Mathie, Jessica O’Gorek and Laurie Buchanan, sharing their “My Gutsy Story®.”