A Homer by Another Name: A Tale of the First Day of School for a Nontraditional Student

Nontraditional StudentDo you remember your first day of school? I remember mine. Most of the other children had freshly scrubbed faces and cheery dispositions. Some were outgoing and precocious, asking everyone their names–that was me. Others were shy and just wanted to sit quietly. Then, there were those kids who just wailed hoping that their parents or guardians would return and whisk them back to the safety of their homes. As a nontraditional student I’ve had many first days of school; each semester presenting a new opportunity to learn and grow. But it wasn’t until I transferred from a community college to Cornell University, that I found myself internally wailing and, like my unhappy kindergarten classmates, wishing that I could return to the safety of my home.

The first day of my first semester as a full-time undergrad, I was still that freshly scrubbed precocious student, excited about my future and curious about my classmates and professors. My pencils were sharpened, my blank loose-leaf pages were ready to be filled and my mind was open.

About 15 minutes into the class, an 18-year-old freshman stood up in the middle of our Policy Analysis 101 class and, with a smug smirk, quoted Homer’s The Iliad. I can’t remember the question he was answering, or what he said, all I knew was that although he was almost 10 years my junior, I thought that he was brilliant and I was completely out of my league. I couldn’t quote Homer; I hadn’t even read The Iliad. When I heard “Homer,” I thought “Simpson.” I wanted to run from the classroom, scoop up my children and return to the safety of my job as an administrati ve assistant in Washington, DC. That was in August 1997.

By the time I graduated with my Bachelor’s of Science degree in May of 2000, I realized that he was a pompous jerk and not only did I belong at Cornell, I thrived there. I am so thankful that with the love and support of friends and family, I packed up my two young children (who were in first and third grade then) and moved to Ithaca, so that I could attend Cornell.

During my journey as a nontraditional student, I experienced times of great triumph and utter despair. At one point or another, every nontraditional student feels like a fish out of water. The keys to our success are perseverance and knowing when to ask for help. It’s important to lean on folks in your social network and to tap your school’s resources. You must do whatever it takes so that you may continue to walk the path, however winding it may be, to achieve the goal set before you. The feeling you have when you achieve a goal that you’ve set for yourself is unlike any other feeling in the world. So, here’s to our journey to educate ourselves and to make a positive impact on our world.


Michelle Y. Talbert is a practicing corporate attorney who lives in Bowie, MD with her husband and their three teenaged children. Her goal is to support nontraditional students as they meet and overcome the challenges associated with juggling family-life and student-life. She would love to hear from you at


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