skip to Main Content

Episode #27: I Went to College in High School

I grew up listening to my mom speak Spanish and mostly responding to her in English. When we went several times as a kid to visit my mom’s family in Spain – all her siblings, aunts, uncles and all of our cousins – I would have to actually respond to my family in Spanish. Growing up around the language made Spanish classes in 7th grade so easy, that by 8th grade my first class of the morning was a 9th grade – a High School – class. I don’t remember how many AP – or Advanced Placement – Spanish classes I had taken by the end of High School. Must have been 3 or 4 years of AP classes and I had become bored with Spanish classes, so I think I started taking French classes by about 10th grade. I don’t know how I was able to take 2 language classes at the same time in High School, but I think somehow I must have. Or maybe I only took 1 or 2 years of Spanish AP classes, then switched to French. I’m not sure. Anyway, what I DO know for sure is that I took at least 2 years of French in High School. And I’m PRETTY sure that I went from French 1 to French 5 or 6 because I went to COLLEGE in HIGH SCHOOL. I went to High School at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Virginia for grades 7 – 12. 7th and 8th were technically Middle School and 9th – 12th were High School and they were all under one big roof. And the local State University, George Mason, was even closer to my childhood home than Robinson was, and was also situated in Fairfax. And George Mason was where my father used to take my mom, sister and me on weekday mornings in the summer when my sister and I were kids – to run or jog laps around the outdoor track, then inside to lift weights. George Mason was also where my father was the assistant coach to the wrestling team when I was a kid and I recall going to many of the matches. Or meets. Whatever you call wrestling events, I went to a lot of them. I went to so many of them as a kid, I can still remember the smell of the gym and the humidity in the air during those matches – or meets. Anyway, George Mason was practically in our backyard and growing up, much of the – then, not NOW! – SMALL campus was very familiar to me. So, by the time I finished my sophomore year of High School – 10th grade – I’m not sure how I got the idea to do it, but I started taking French classes over the summer at George Mason, BEFORE I started my junior year of High School, when I was 16 years old. French came very easily to me because I knew Spanish. The verb conjugation is the same, including reflexive verbs like je me lave and yo me baño and there are so many Spanish and French cognates – words that have the same linguistic derivation as another – like delfin and dauphin for dolphin and rosa and rose for pink. And not only did French come easily to me, but so did being 16 and spending time on a college campus, because I KNEW this campus and – at the time, I bet it wasn’t more than 10 buildings – it was so small and it seemed like more of a COMMUTER school to me, even though already at that time, George Mason – or just Mason as we called it – did have dormitories and out-of-state students living in them. So, I was 16 taking summer college classes with other students, mostly in their 20’s and I was pretty shy and I would get mixed up speaking Spanish and French in class. I remember one day, my French professor asking me, “Parle tu espagnol?” I MEANT to say in FRENCH, “Oui, un peu”, INSTEAD I said, “Si, un poco” in SPANISH. That got a chuckle out of everyone and they – my classmates and my professor – went easy on me because I was just a kid. I must have taken at least a couple of French classes that summer before I started 11th grade, because by that fall when I started my second to last year of High School, that’s when I started taking Advanced Placement – AP – French 5 or 6. And I remember feeling behind on the VOCABULARY compared to my High School classmates, because I skipped a level or two of French to be in the AP class. I was good on the verb conjugation and reflexive verbs, but I remember practically wearing out my paperback French-English dictionary. Yes, yes for any YOUNG listeners out there, this was the early 1980’s – WAY before the internet and smartphones to look up any damn thing in a matter of seconds! And I was recently reminded that the next summer, the summer before my senior year of High School, I took Spanish classes at Mason. I don’t know for sure if I also took French classes again that summer. But I sure did take Spanish classes at Mason the summer that I was 17 years old. And I know this for sure because I was reminded by one of my fellow students from all those years ago – Dolores. There had actually been 3 of us girls with moms from Spain who were in the Spanish class together. Dolores, Lola and me. And we all had been given the birth name of Dolores by our parents. Dolores always went by Dolores, Lola was actually given MARIA Dolores and always went by Lola and I was named Dolores and always went by Dee Dee. And thanks to social media, I am still in touch with Dolores and Lola and I get to see Dolores and her amazing Ana somewhat regularly, because they live less than 1- miles – Hell, probably less than 7 or 8 miles from my daughter and me. And boy, are those girls FUN! And they aren’t afraid to EAT, unlike many other women I know who restrict themselves from digging into all foods, including CARBS! And we love our BUBBLY and our glasses are never empty for long. ANYWAY, it was during my last get-together with Dolores and Ana at Dolores’ place – just a couple of months ago – it was after we ate lunch and we were sitting around drinking MORE bubbly, that Dolores reminded me of the first time she met me, in a class when I was 17, the summer before my senior year of High School. I guess I had become a helluva lot more confident that second summer of college classes because Dolores told me THIS: “You just walked into the class that first day, took one look at me, as you walked past me to sit in a seat behind me, you ran your fingers through my hair”. “I did WHAT?”, I asked, trying my HARDEST to remember that moment when I would have had the audacity to do something so personal to a complete stranger. My memory surfaced nothing. No memory of such an interaction. Dolores went on to smile and laugh – with her perfectly straight and so white teeth, both her and Ana! – and to say, “Yeah, we all thought you were so cool and we were all shocked to later find out you were so YOUNG and still in HIGH SCHOOL!” Mind you, Dolores is only a few years older than I am, but I guess it’s a big deal when you’re younger and I was 17 and she would have been all of 20! I would continue going to Mason after graduating High School – including summers, since I had gotten into that habit early on – to get my undergraduate degree in Spanish and English literature. And I would finish a semester early, when I was still 21 years old, because of all those summer classes. I supported myself during those college years – paying my tuition, books, rent and all living expenses by working in restaurants and bars. And I was  so happy to finish early, because I wanted to be done with college and to get on with my life. I had the WORKING student, the COMMUTER student college experience – not the going-away-to-college, living in a dorm, paid for by my parents experience that many of my High School classmates had. And maybe the latter is what some of my Mason classmates had. But the couple of college classmates I had who I choose to stay in touch with were my fellow daughters of Spanish moms and working commuter students, supporting ourselves. We are badass women who might have chosen different life paths after college, but who are deeply connected even to this day. I think these two women are my soul sisters, or the sisters I never had. They GOT me when I was 17 and they GET me now. I bless them and I thank them for their love and support in my LIFE and their love and support for Audacious Freedom, the podcast.

Back To Top