‘Oh I was just wondering have you got a moment, I just want to ask you about something‘ she had arrived at NCI reception and they suggested I might meet with her. ‘No problem at all‘ I assured her while thinking how much I had to do that afternoon.
Five minutes later she sat in my office. She was very nervous and I thought I noticed a slight trembling in her voice. Her name was Susan.
‘It’s like this‘ she said ‘I was thinking of doing a course here but I am not sure if I’d be able for it‘. She went on to tell me her story. She left school at sixteen without a Leaving Cert. She worked in the retail sector for the last twenty five years and now she is a manager. She is married with three kids and two of them are in college. She reads a lot and is well liked by her colleagues. Generally, she’s happy.
But there’s always been a niggle. An unease and sense of being often left out, ignored and taken-for-granted. ‘Sure what would Susan know‘ she once overheard a younger colleague remark.
Susan explained that she has been thinking about college for years but had never taken the first step. Recently she floated the idea of doing a course with her friends and family ‘Yeah go on why don’t you give it a try‘ they would encourage her. But deep down she was nervous and didn’t know where to start.
‘So I don’t know Leo why I’m here, perhaps it’s just a crazy idea, I mean, I don’t even have a Leaving Cert and I was crap at school, this is a terrible idea, sorry for wasting your time‘. I just listened, it was like I was the audience for her inner debate. ‘But I can do it! I’m good with words, this is for me, this is my chance!‘
‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ I asked, eventually finding something I could be useful at. ‘Yes that would be great‘.
Later we talked about adult learning and how she was not that unusual. College, especially National College of Ireland, is not like school. Adults are welcome and treasured as they bring valuable life experience to the classroom. We discussed how people like Susan make a conscious decision to learn and often thrive when they go to college. They find new ideas, make new friends and find new meaning in their lives.
Years later we were standing at the conferring ceremony in the National Convention Centre, Susan was all gowned up and proudly clutching her parchment. She introduced me to her family and there were smiles all round.
‘Do you remember our first meeting?‘ she asked. I nodded ‘yes’. ‘Well! I just want to say thanks for the tea. You make a good cup of tea‘ she grinned ‘one that will last a lifetime!‘.