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My View: It’s gratifying to keep gray matter flowing

By Susan Giovino

Someone once described me as a river, and said that I should just keep on flowing. I reflect on that now as I recently walked across the stage at SUNY Buffalo State to receive my bachelor’s diploma at age 56.

My previous 20 years were spent home schooling my three children and taking care of my parents. It was time so well spent. But it was time to take off those hats and don another – that of a student again.

My first day back to school was a very early, very cold, snowy January morning and my wipers weren’t working. I persevered and managed to find a parking spot and my first classroom. I ventured in, sat at the back of the class – inconspicuously, I thought – and promptly spilled my coffee. I was quickly busted as a “non-tradish.”

One of the things that come to mind when I think of a river is that it is never stagnant. As the years progress, I have wanted to keep moving, physically and mentally.

So for the next 2½ years, I found myself writing poetry, creating artwork, getting well-acquainted with individuals like Ben Franklin and Prometheus, and learning about the chemistry of my brain, as well as the psychology.

I got to hang out with a monk in a Buddhist temple, attend a service in a mosque, aid an art teacher in teaching special-needs kids and learn sign language. This all definitely kept the gray matter on the move.

As a river moves, it picks up things along the way, blends with others (tributaries) and leaves an impression on things it flows over.

It caught me by surprise that most of my professors were my peers. In addition, the age chasm fell away, as I came alongside other students I got to know, laugh with and obsess over studying and grades. It made no difference to them that I was this annoying, nontraditional overachiever and could have been their mother.  We found a common denominator and became friends – equals, as our paths temporarily crossed.

Once in a while, I would brush by another nontraditional student who provided the opportunity for empathy and encouragement.

I couldn’t have done it without all of my cheerleaders. My husband enjoyed his “young” coed and became my favorite tutor. My children cheered me on, as well as others who had walked this path themselves. This included those who came before me. My aunt was the first Italian-American female who graduated from this school. Many other family members, as well as my daughter, preceded me.

Rivers have been called the “roads or the liquid souls of the forest.” There are areas they meander through that are cold and shady, others that are warm and sunny. That said, there were some trials along the way and it was hard work, but I was always equipped to keep moving.

I felt so good about being intentional and discovered resources I didn’t know I possessed. I see possible new terrain ahead in this riverbed: work, grad school, missions, empty nesting, married kids and grandkids. Through it all, I will continue to flow and learn, influence and be influenced, and add more chapters to my story.

As I peer downstream to my eventual “delta,” my glistening state seems to reflect more and more of the riches gleaned along the way.

As a river eventually comes to its destination, it loses speed and can no longer carry all it did before. I don’t fear that. When that time comes, I will enjoy being carried along, to bigger horizons, and will have no regrets about the amazing journey I have traveled.

Susan Giovino, having completed school, is now employed as program manager at the Rural Outreach Center.

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