My journey back to school

Image edited Patrick Hascall
Image edited Patrick Hascall

I am a 58-year-old returning student pursuing my degree in social work. I spend many days wishing I had used my young brain while I still could.

My journey back to school has been a long one; it started over 20 years ago.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and graduated from high school in 1975.

After a long absence that included a lot of travel, a couple of children and a nightmarish divorce, I started school again at Sierra Community College in Northern California at the age of 36.

Experiencing domestic violence at the hands of my first husband made me realize I wanted to help other victims (I wrote an article about domestic violence in the April 2015 issue of Ka ‘Ohana).

I suffered a heart attack due to some serious health issues and had to quit school.

I was so disappointed.

My journey back to school has been a long one; it started over 20 years ago – Cynthia Lee Sinclair
My journey back to school has been a long one; it started over 20 years ago – Cynthia Lee Sinclair

All my priorities changed when I faced my mortality in that way, and I decided to show my kids this country while I could.

So the house went on the market, and I loaded up the kids and the dog in the camper. We spent almost five months on the road and went to 17 states.

For schoolwork, I had the boys learn important information about each state we visited.

It was the trip of a lifetime. We saw all the great places on the mainland: Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Mt. Rushmore and Mammoth Cave.

When we got to Alabama we stayed.

I still wanted to help people, so I began working for the United Methodist Church. I became a licensed local pastor and was appointed to serve three small churches.

As my health issues progressed, I was not able to serve large groups anymore but still wanted to help victims of domestic violence.

But I knew that I couldn’t stay in Alabama. I had always struggled with the racism there. I made jokes that I didn’t think I could handle the bigots and the alligators. But when I wanted to feed the bigots to the alligators, it was time for this old San Francisco hippie to go.

After an unexpected second divorce, I decided to move to Hawai’i because this is where my family is from.

I was disappointed to find racism in Hawai‘i too. The times I have encountered it at WCC really broke my heart. It hurts to be called a “dumb old haole.”

Last year marked 150 years that my family has been in Hawai‘i. I plan to transfer to UH Mānoa and get my masters in social work, which will make me the third generation to graduate from the university.

I will couple my degree with my experience as a pastor to become a pastoral counselor. My hope is to work for the Methodist Church helping victims of domestic violence and child abuse.

Coming back to school after all these years though has presented an almost overwhelming set of problems.

It is hard to sit next to lightning smart kids in class each day.

Last semester when studying for a big midterm, I thought for sure I would have to quit school, because I thought my old brain could never keep up in this information-intensive environment.

But I carefully followed the study guide provided by the instructor. She told me to get plenty of sleep and that it wasn’t good to cram non-stop for hours, that it was better to take regular breaks.

Turns out, her advice was very good. I got a 96 on that midterm, which refueled my desire to continue on.

The thing I have learned the most that helps in being successful is to not let my insecurities get the better of me.

Sometimes it feels like my stomach is doing backflips, but if I take a deep breath, trust in the process, stay the course and follow the instructor’s advice, I make it through each challenge as it comes.

I am very grateful to the instructors at WCC as they are generous with their help.

Aside from my health issues, like many older returning students the aches and pains that go along with getting older make it difficult to sit in small desks for long periods or to lift heavy book bags.

The decline in my hearing has been cause for many embarrassing and sometimes humorous moments. Once in art class, I said to another student: “What? You think I am a real saint?” He answered, “No, I said do you have any red paint!”

There are many unique problems that older students face. Issues with technology are among the biggest.

I lived out in the country with no internet during the height of the technology explosion. I am so low tech it is pathetic. I still prefer a pen and paper over a keyboard.

Despite my challenges I am proud to say that I made the dean’s list this past semester. But it took a herculean effort, which makes me want to appeal to all the young men and women here at WCC: Use your lightning smart brains while you are young, and please try to be patient with us older students.


by Cynthia Lee Sinclair, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter