“This Girl Is on Fire”: Returning to School After 26 Years

Every Wednesday morning at 6:00, as I step out of my house into the darkness of the garage, a feeling of accomplishment washes over me. It is palpable. Every single time. My day’s barely begun, and the exhilaration of walking out that door with backpack on, my dream in motion, generates a tremendous feeling of success within me. And I’m not even a morning person!

My Love of Language

My story begins almost 35 years ago with a love of language. The enthusiasm I had for learning Spanish through middle and high school steered me toward pursuing a Spanish major, but I knew that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more but struggled with zeroing in on what was missing. My introduction to linguistics in Spanish classes created a spark in me that helped focus my search. After graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I promptly applied to a graduate program in linguistics. I wasn’t sure what I would do with that degree, but I felt like the desire to further my education in that field was sending me in the right direction. I yearned to make a contribution to the world by way of a meaningful career, but I hadn’t quite pinpointed my passion just yet.

At that time, I’d been married for 3 years and had given birth to my first child. As much as education was important to me, family mattered more. At the end of the day, motherhood trumped all, and I made the personal decision to postpone a graduate degree and raise my family. Since I married young, I felt confident that I could return to school after they all grew up and that I would have plenty of working years ahead of me. The path I chose was long, but it was a fulfilling road that led me to where I am today.

While on that extended break from higher education, my love of language never died. Only 5 years after graduating from college, my husband accepted a job overseas, and we moved to Spain—where I did all I could during those 2 years to immerse myself in Spanish language and culture. I kept the spark alive upon returning to the United States, always searching for opportunities to speak Spanish and getting involved in anything language related. A significant breakthrough in the search for my passion came almost 5 years ago when my husband’s job took us abroad again—this time to New Delhi, India. I was invited to teach English classes to adults for a year, which I eagerly dove right into. I loved teaching adults and delighted in the intricacies of the English language. Cue the flame, its intensity increasing . . . I knew I was getting closer.

Launching My Next Chapter In Life

At the beginning of this year, my 25-year-old daughter encouraged me to figure out what I wanted to do, make a plan, and put that plan into action. With my youngest son graduating from high school in June, I was eager to launch a new chapter in my life. And so, with a great deal of research and creative Googling, I discovered speech-language pathology. I knew right away that I found what I had always been looking for. This was my answer! My son was 4 months away from graduating, but I could not wait. I registered for classes immediately and proceeded posthaste.

The COVID-19 pandemic did its best to throw a wrench in my plans, but I would not be deterred. My first class (a 6-week course) began on March 23, 2020. Along with a summer course and a GRE prep class, I would also take two 5-week courses beginning in May.

As opposed to the natural order of things reducing our household numbers down to my husband and me, by the time I started classes, our home had reached a record high of nine people and two incompatible cats living and quarantining in our household full time. This included our high school senior learning online in his bedroom, a family friend (also a senior) living in my husband’s home office, my two college students learning remotely at home, my daughter and her cat moving into our walk-in attic (only a month earlier she had moved across the country to find a new job . . . COVID put a wrench in those plans), my parents (who were sent home abruptly from their missionary work in Ukraine), and my husband working from home out of our bedroom. It was a peculiar turn of events as I went from being the only person at home during the day to being the only person leaving the house as I escaped the chaos in search of a quiet place to study. Life will always have its challenges, but the tenacity I have to press on kept me focused on my end goal.

I’m currently a full-time student, commuting 3 hours round trip from my home, fulfilling prerequisites for a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. Courtesy of the coronavirus, most of my classes are online, but I do spend one day in person on campus. Never mind the commute, never mind the social distancing, never mind the age difference between me and my peers . . . without a doubt, I’m smiling from ear to ear under that mask. As I learn about plosives and fricatives, ossicles and audiograms, the angular gyrus and subglottic pressure, it’s like dormant parts of my brain are on fire, lighting up with the input of new information. Yes, I’m only a fledgling on this journey, but I feel like a success already. After 26 years, I found my passion and am realizing my dream. I’m doing it!

This girl is on fire.


  1. Lynn Coyle-Handy December 1, 2020 at 12:53 pm

    Love this, Lisa! Congratulations! I am so excited for you & so inspired by your passion! I’m 46 years old, and I just began my Post-BA in Communication Disorders at SUNY New Paltz, after a 20 year break from school. (I completed my Master’s in Psychology 20 years ago.) I love what I am learning, especially about Language Development in Children and Early Intervention.

    Cheers to new chapters and to passionate lifelong learning!

  2. Marie-Aline Cadieux December 1, 2020 at 3:52 pm

    Lisa and Lynn,
    It’s really nice for me to hear your stories! I am also returning to school, but part-time while I wait until I can retire at 59 from my full-time job and keep my health insurance. After spending three years completing prerequisites online, I’m now completing my introductory SLP course, and excited to keep going. Good luck to both of you! I hope I run into you one day at a conference somewhere. 🙂

  3. Annie Bidia December 1, 2020 at 4:32 pm

    It was refreshing to read about someone who is walking the same education and career path that I am on. I, too, married early and knew I would continue my education when my children were older. My youngest is a high school junior and I am a college senior. When I went to orientation at the university I am attending, one of my professors mentioned that a previous student called herself an “encore” student, and I have used that term ever since to describe my journey. I am now applying to the grad program in this wonderful speech-language pathology world!


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