Meadville Tribune

Opinion

June 4, 2014

Whether you’re older than 25 or 50, take advantage of your opportunities

Writer’s note: I am a journalist in academia, a woman who has traveled among many cultures. I live outside the box and I like it — and I want to share my perspective with you every Thursday.

“You can do anything you want to,” her guidance counselor told her. “You’re smart.”

That’s the only guidance she received before she started college. She liked science so she enrolled in pre-med at Gannon University in Erie straight out of high school.

“I made it the first year,” she said. “By the second year, I started floundering.”

She admits she didn’t know what she wanted to do. Her parents told her to get a degree, any degree. By her sophomore year, she’d lost interest in school and took an interest in her future husband.

Thirty years later, Lorri Drumm and her husband had raised four children when she read an article in the paper about the Allegheny College Association Continuing Education Scholarship. It’s a competitive program that offers financial support to women older than 25 who have completed less than two years of college.

Drumm decided to give college — and herself — a second chance. She applied and the committee awarded her a scholarship with the funds to enroll in three courses for the academic year.

In 2012, she took English classes with a focus on lots of reading and writing while working full-time.

“That was kind of my test,” Drumm said. “I didn’t even know if I could write a college paper.”

She also didn’t know if she’d get additional support as an ACA scholar. Recipients must reapply for a new year of studies; each year, the competition is tighter.

“Each year, you don’t think there might be another year,” Drumm said.

Drumm didn’t focus on her grades. She focused on learning.

Her work earned her a second year of support and she enrolled in news writing, a class I teach each semester. She did her research. She read up on me and my background in journalism. She said the course sounded unique, different and interesting. Again, she thought she had one shot and decided to make the most of it.

During discussion in class early in the semester, Drumm shared that she’d been fired from her job after more than 20 years. The firing knocked her down but not out. She continued to attend classes while she pushed for her unemployment benefits.

Spring semester she took our multimedia journalism course with its focus on radio. Drumm joined her classmates in producing a radio piece on the aftermath of the fire in downtown Meadville that displaced several families. She was persistent in pursuing sources and information and scored excellent sound bites that were an important component of the final piece.

Drumm’s initiative and growing journalism skills earned her a summer internship at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She applied for student summer housing at Point Park University where the other interns would be staying. She’d have affordable housing a short walk from the newspaper offices.

A dean told Drumm that the university doesn’t offer the housing to anyone older than 25. A student and an intern, Drumm was denied the chance to stay with her fellow interns.

She wasn’t deterred; she was determined.

Drumm searched online listings for affordable housing and applied for supplemental funds from Allegheny. She found a landlord who understood her situation. The woman told Drumm that she’d been where she’d been, that she had made a new start in mid-life. She rented Drumm a room in her house.

As a professor, I am proud of Drumm. She’s a shining example for her younger classmates. In less than a year, she went from a beginning news writing class to a prestigious internship where she’s already pitching story ideas to her editors in the features department.

When she doesn’t know how to do something, she asks. When she hits an obstacle, she finds a way around it.

In her third week, she wrote the obituary for Ann B. Davis, who played Alice, the housekeeper on the TV series, “The Brady Bunch.” She grew up watching TV’s blended family, long before the Internet and social media.

Drumm now posts links to her stories on Twitter and LinkedIn. She writes about her experiences and insights on Gator Blogs at Allegheny’s website, sites.allegheny.edu/gatorblogs/author/drumml.

This week she received an assignment to write about a “degree of experience.” She was told her words will be read by prospective college students.

Drumm already has an idea for her piece. She learned that graduate students, 24- and 25-year-olds, are often reluctant to get internships.

“Don’t be an old person,” Drumm said.

Whether you’re older than 25 or 50, take advantage of your opportunities.

Especially your status as a student, Drumm said, citing advice she learned from Associated Press photographer Ted Warren, who visited our multimedia class via Skype last semester.

Next year, Drumm will return to Allegheny for a third year as an ACA scholar. She plans to take a photography class to round out her journalism skills.

“I really do want to get my bachelor’s,” Drumm said. “I don’t know how old I’ll be or how I’ll get it.”

I agree with her guidance counselor’s assessment years ago.

You can do anything you want to, Lorri Drumm.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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