Karen and Elizabeth at Karen’s home on Friday, Aug. 18. The friends share a strong bond and encourage each other to be positive and reach their goals. Photo: Estivali Moreno

I have a dear friend who went back to school in her 50s. I call her my “Mama Bear,” but her actual name is Karen and she is who always pops into my head when I think about going back to school.

Karen has been my person in so many ways. She has let me sleep on her couch in tears after breakups. She holds all my secrets and always has a hot cup of coffee ready for me in the morning if I need it. Throughout our friendship, I have watched her go from being a freshmen at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) full of doubts, to a confident, hardworking student, who now has dreams of getting a bachelor’s degree.

My friend, despite her age and other barriers, made the choice to show up for herself through her education, and I think that I can show up for myself in this way too.

My own relationship with education has been complicated. I can’t say that I have had the excuse of “barriers” though. My barriers have mostly been “self-made.” Some of these have included the following: “I don’t need a degree,” “I’m too broke,” “I’m too fat” (one of my favorite writers says that we all think we are too fat to do something so I’m including it), and the big finale: “I’m too old” (I’m 29, not a “traditional age” for college, I suppose, but saying I’m old is ridiculous. I’ll even admit that!)

The biggest (self-made) barrier though has been my relationship with math. When I took the placement test at CCSF, I placed into the lowest possible math class. My ego has been too big to let me sit in a basic math and pre-algebra class, so I continued to put off school coming up with all the aforementioned excuses.

But there are people who have real barriers preventing them from pursuing an education. I’ve had to check my privilege. I’m living at a time where there is no time for self-made barriers. Have you seen our government? I have a responsibility to pursue an education and try to figure out how to help those facing actual barriers. I have a responsibility to myself and to my community. Basically I need to “get over it and go to school!” as my dad says.

I’ve never been strong at academics, I doubt myself constantly and I’ve always been afraid to ask questions. Asking questions has meant to me that I’m dumb or I should already know these things. I have had people look at me in shock when I tell them I don’t know dates or specifics about wars or presidents, but I have never taken the time to learn these things. Learning takes a certain humility that has taken me awhile to acquire.

But then I think about Karen. Sitting in her little apartment seeing her school books scattered across her floor and her excitement at everything she is learning. Last semester she took a Latin American Studies class with Greg Landau, a notable professor who also teaches music and takes students to Cuba every summer. And that sealed the deal for me. I want to study in Cuba! Or I at least want to learn about it. I want these things to be a possibility for me. I want these things to be a possibility for everyone who wants it. So I finally decided to take the first step.

I’m enrolled for two classes at CCSF’s Mission campus. I specifically chose the Mission campus because the Mission is home to me and I love the idea of walking to class with Spanish being spoken around me. I’m very excited about my Music of Latin America class because my professor is known for being a talented musician and has the reputation of making it a really fun class. I actually watched a video of her playing the piano and she exuded a passion and energy that seems contagious. And my other class is math because I knew if I didn’t take math then I wasn’t really serious about committing myself to learning. To top it all off, I am a San Francisco resident so my tuition is free due to the new “Free City” tuition program. So I really can’t use the “I’m broke” excuse on this one. It’s time to show up for myself. Thanks for paving the way, Mama Bear.