I started college today….

I just got home from my first night at Houston Community College. As you may have read previously, I went to college and dropped out in my first semester in 1995, and have no transferable credits. I am starting from scratch.

I am taking Psychology 101. It was the only night class that was a “general education” class available in HCC’s “second start” term (since I did not begin in August).

So here are some highlights:

  • The class is at the downtown campus, which I had never been to. I immediately fell in love with the campus. Very hip, urban, and alive. I felt like I belonged there.
  • My teacher goes to my church, and was in the same “Homosexuality and Christian Ethics” class Nathan and I took this summer.
  • I learned a lot about Psychology. Landmark always says “this is not psychology”- but I have had very little distinction in Psychology. From what we reviewed tonight, Landmark was not lying.
  • The other students were so great! We had to do a team assignment. My team killed it on our short statements on the different schools of Psychology. I was able to help them distinguish between the different approaches. I have to say it really felt great to help them. Each person came up with a statement in their own words and then we handed in the assignment with some pretty awesome answers. I can see I will be able to contribute to the other students and be able to help them learn without being a know-it-all. That’s a skill that is has taken 35 years to learn.
  • I now can see the personal value in taking my “general education” requirements. I am committed to taking subjects, like Psychology, that I know little about it. I am going to venture in unfamiliar territory. For example, I can see value in taking Biology or Chemistry vs. taking some science class just to get through it.

The journey has now officially begun. This chapter is all about educating myself and discovering what really matters to me, what I am interested in, and what I want to pursue.

I am thrilled and thankful for the love, support, and encouragement from Nathan, my family, and you- my friends who are reading. Thanks!







I quit the University of Phoenix today

So a few weeks back, in this very blog, I announced I would be attending the University of Phoenix this fall.

My first class was an Orientation classroom.  The intention is for people to know what they are getting into and be clear on how the school works. You can withdraw if it is not for you. I am glad they had this option.

The level of conversation in the classroom was so low that it just didn’t feel right. The people in my class were very well-meaning, good people and yet I felt like I just did not belong there. I realized for the $12,000 a year price tag – it was just not worth it. You can go to community college for 15 credits for the same price as one 3-credit class at the University of Phoenix, and I deduced it was the same quality (in fact the instructor said he teaches the exact same classes at the community college).

I also learned that the University of Phoenix- which has 3 billion is revenues annually- 90% of which is from federal loans and grants- is one of the largest contributors to Mitt Romney and the Republican party. They want President Obama out. He questions their enormous student loan default rate (21% of annual enrollment of 375,000 students) and their 12% graduate rate. Although I try not to be political, I will not participate in this. Our president is publicly standing for the end of legal discrimination of gay people and I will not go to a school that is aggressively lobbying for his defeat. Won’t do it.

After considering all of that I changed my mind and I am making a different choice.

Next week I start at the community college and I am thrilled, a bit humbled, and glad that I am fulfilling on this dream of mine to obtain a college degree (even if the community college did not give me a gorgeous folder!).

Going back to school after 16 years…My journey in choosing the right school for me

Next Tuesday, September 4, 2012 I will be going back to school. I am nervous, excited, thrilled and a bit on edge about taking this leap. In the fall of 1995 and the fall of 1996 I went to Minneapolis Community College for the fall semester.  In both years I was getting straight A’s until there was a snow storm on the week of finals.  I didn’t bother to find out the reschedule date. Two years in a row, mostly the same classes, I failed them all.

That was eons ago and even though I have been a successful professional in a very challenging career, I have been scared of repeating my old academic patterns. This time I decided to do my research. Going to college is a big decision. It’s expensive, time consuming; and there are hundred of options, rules, transfer policies – this is a big complex world. A world that I had no idea of. I definitely did not know it when I was 18.

At 18, I was a mess. I was newly out of the closet and yet I had no footing. I was wandering around trying to find a place where I belonged – nothing seemed to fit. Back in those days, I felt like an outsider looking into the gay community. Everywhere else I went I felt like an outside because I was gay. This is a very common experience for those who have newly come out – much less liberating than is often depicted.

One day when I was 19, I felt so alone in the world, I sat on my kitchen floor and couldn’t quit crying. I stayed there for about 6 hours. Finally I got a phone book out and called a help line. I knew I needed help, I was lost, sad, and confused. This action started my journey towards self-improvement. The operator recommended a support group in Minneapolis called the Men’s Center.

That support group changed my life and in some ways saved me. Saved me from self-destruction and isolation. All of a sudden I had a group of friends who shared their experiences and guided me. I started to see myself in a different light. I was somebody who mattered. I delved into self-discovery with a passion. I naturally wanted to contribute and give these discoveries away this to others. This journey led me to Landmark. The Landmark Forum rocked my world and turned it inside out. I walked away with freedom and possibilities. That time of my life was pure magic.

Looking back, I can now see that what I needed was a self-discovery education. I went to work on me. I have no regrets and yet I always wanted to go to college.

In my pursuits of finding the right school I had to go back in time.  A lot of my peers at the Arts High School would attend USC and NYU and other prestigious conservatories and universities. I didn’t even bother to look. Where was I? I swear I can’t remember one person ever talking to me about this; I vaguely remember going to a college fair. I must say- I never really took going to college seriously. I loved the idea of it, but in reality I wanted to live life, hang out, and work.

Now I have taken this very seriously. Over the past 5 months I have looked at around 12 different schools in and out of state. My amazing husband Nathan has been so great, because every time I would go to a different school I would come home with pamphlets and brochures. He has had to endure hours of conversations of me debating the following questions:

  • where should I go?
  • how it will work financially?
  • should I take out a school loan?
  • how can I go to school during the day and not make a lot of money? 
  • do I want to go back to work full time and go to school at night and weekends? Do I want to give up my time?
  • should I pursue the Arts again or my newer interests like marriage counseling? 

In the process, I found a school that I am really excited about – University of Phoenix. While many people relate to University of Phoenix as an online school (as I did) they have campuses all across the country. They have the largest enrollment in the U.S. with over 400,000 students. The school is fully regionally accredited- which is the highest level of accreditation a university can have. The school is designed for working adults. The average student is 36 years old. The price is less that the University of Houston and more than Community College.

When I visited their campus in Houston I wasn’t expecting much. My sister had warned me about non-traditional/ for-profit schools. One afternoon I decided to check it out because I just could not wait in-line for 2 hours again at the Community College. I had already done that several times and no one would really help and support me. It was like the DMV on steroids. 

The minute I walked through the door I fell in love with everything about University of Phoenix. The extraordinary learning resource center which was filled with alive young professionals- it’s like an iMAC computer lab/Starbucks hybrid; the Enrollment Advisor who was great, professional, caring and understood exactly what I was going through; the classes are structured in a way so I can go to class one night a week; and they gave me a beautiful folder to keep all my stuff in! 

I left there with a future I didn’t know existed. I could now both pursue my career while I fulfill on my goal to achieve a college education. I would not have to go to class 4 night a week. It would take around 4 and a 1/2 years.  How awesome, right?

Everything was awesome until I did something that I have seen a lot of people do after they first discover Landmark – I went home and did a Google search.

OMG! Landmark is like a drop in the ocean compared to all these complaints and opionions about for-profit Universities. University of Phoenix has it’s fair share. For weeks I researched and read the good, bad, and ugly. Here are the main negative reasons to attend a for-profit University that I discovered and where I see University of Phoenix fits in:

  • There are for-profits that essentially are not regionally accredited. They have some lesser accreditation and represent themselves as equal to other universities. They charge exorbitant fees and then students are left with a lot of debt and a worthless degree. This doesn’t apply to University of Phoenix.
  • The for-profit schools have a higher percentage of students who default on their loans. Read this: Federal student loan default rates on the rise – University of Phoenix. The government has wisely jumped in to deal with this across the board. Most of the defaults are from students who did not graduate. For-profits have open enrollment and higher tuitions; so if someone is not ready for school they fail out with a lot of student debt. Two years ago University of Phoenix implemented a 3-week Orientation that is mandatory. 80% of the students chose to continue. Since this change, enrollments have gone down for the school but drop-out rates have also decreased.
  • The for-profits used to pay their Enrollment Advisors based on the number of people they enrolled until the government stopped it. University of Phoenix was definitely guilty of this. University of Phoenix has not had this practice since 2010. The enrollment advisor I met was professional, very helpful and supportive. I was not pushed, called, or pressured in any way.
  • A for-profit Degree will be laughed at or not considered by recruiters and HR departments. After speaking with a lot of people on this topic, the reality is: this is not true- at least as it pertains to University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix has an acceptable reputation and as time marches on, will gain more and more agreement. The reality is you need a degree from a regionally accredited university to meet qualifications to get an interview. The rest is up to you. In my situation, simply having a degree combined with my professional experience could give me a lot of opportunities in certain industries (like non-for-profits) that I wouldn’t have otherwise- but my experience will far out weigh my degree. I believe this is true for most successful professionals that are my age.

With having taken all of this into consideration I have made the right choice for me and I will be attending University of Phoenix. 

I learned a great lesson in all of this: My friends and peers who went to those great colleges really wanted to go to them. They worked hard for that. It was their dream. I never found a school that I really wanted to go until I was 35. It’s name is University of Phoenix. It’s untraditional, stirs up reactions both positive and negative, and it dares to take on an entire system- it’s just like me. Perfect fit. Don’t you agree?

It’s time to love again- Beginning the next chapter of my life

Today I had an image that brought me to tears, the image was that of my Uncle Matt. 25 years ago (this week), Matt committed suicide at age 23. In the image- he was having coffee with my grandma Betty in her kitchen. He just stopped by to “shoot the shit”. They were laughing and chatting and she was pouring him coffee. There was so much love between them; she was so happy. I guess Matt never realized how loved he was or that his mom’s heart would be shattered for the rest of her life after he took his own life. No one will ever know what Matt was thinking or going through, but clearly he could not see beyond the darkness and pain.

In 1997, I made a declaration. That I would live my life in honor of my Uncle Matt. I would live the greatest life I could, a life that would make a difference and a life that would have light shine so bright that people could see a possibility in the face of the darkness. I would live a life that would demonstrate that love could and would heal our world.

Honestly, since losing my job in March this year- I forgot about this kind of love. My job wasn’t just a job- it was the vehicle to fulfill on this promise. It was my life. It was my dreams. I had given it my whole heart since 1997- when I was 20 years old.

The loss of my job has been one of the most devastating experiences of my life. It was like a sudden death. There were mornings when I woke up in tears and cried myself to sleep. Where I was in a deep haze. I denied, negotiated, was bitterly angry, waves of sadness at unexpected moments and day by day- a little bit more acceptance.

Several months after the firing, I began to think about my future and yet nothing felt right. One day I was going to be a TV star; the next day I was going to college (I ended up going to 14 different colleges and each time I told Nathan – “this is where I am going!”- his patience is commendable); then I was going to do nothing; Then I was going to start my own business, etc, etc,… but those moments were fleeting and then the darkness and emptiness would return.

As this inquiry progressed I started to ask questions: How could I make a difference- a real difference? How could I forgive myself for my naive and immature ways of speaking that led to by dismissal? Why did this happen? What do I do now?

I asked anyone who would listen and yet everyone’s answer, in my world, was just noise.

Today, I believe I discovered the answer. The answer has been there since 1997 (and actually much, much longer). The answer hadn’t changed. The answer is: Love. Love can make a difference – a real difference. Love can forgive. This all happened so I have a deeper capacity to love. And the next thing to do is to love in bigger, greater, and more powerful ways than ever before.

I also can see that it is time for a new declaration- a declaration that honors my Uncle Matt and honors Brian Nord and what he had to overcome to have the life he has had. A declaration worthy of the rest of my life. A new promise. A new purpose.

I am now dedicating my life in honor of every LGBT person who does not know they are loved. To every LGBT person who’s dream of being in love and loved in return has never been realized. To every LGBT person who feels unlovable no matter how much love they get. I am creating a clearing for the healing of the LGBT community through Love.

I am creating a new reality in which it is THE NORM for LGBT people to have loving, supportive, healthy and lasting relationships (if the chose). In other words, I am committing the next chapter specifically to LGBT marriages and relationships not only being legal but thriving and fulfilling.

Inside of this promise, I am creating for myself the most remarkable life with Nathan that inspires others.

  •  I will be starting college for the first time and will be pursing my bachelor’s degree- as a personal way to love myself and honor myself.
  • I will continue to love and honor myself and all human beings through taking care of my body and losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle.
  • I will create new way to contribute and support my LGBT brothers and sisters to find love and to be successful in their relationships for the long-haul.
  • I  will create a new job that provides for Nathan and our future family abundantly.

So thanks to my sister-in-law Shanti for opening my eyes and my heart again to the real answer. The real work is just beginning..it’s time to love again.