My current contract with the DC State Superintendent ends on May 31. I plan to spend the month of June visiting with family and friends up and down the East Coast. Then, in early July, I am moving to Northern California. I will be working in the Bay Area over the summer, and in the fall, I will be enrolling in graduate school full-time to study education policy. I am 42 years old. If I am able to complete my studies in the expected five years, I will be 47 when I am finished. By the time I get tenure at a research university, I’ll be in my mid-50s. It’s never too late to pursue your dreams.
Last week, I flew out to California to visit Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley. During this time, I met with current faculty and students as well as the other prospective first years in my programs. Several times, I was asked, “Why do you want to go to graduate school, and why now?”
I have always wanted to go to graduate school. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to go to college (preferably Duke or Georgetown), and then get an advanced degree. I participated in a program to support future academics sponsored by the Mellon Foundation when I was an undergraduate. It paid for me to do research during the school years and summers. Immediately after graduation, I was able to attend a conference with the other Mellon Fellows from campuses around the country. I even enrolled in a yearlong, post-baccalaureate program that was supposed to be another stepping stone toward that doctoral degree.
But I hated the program. I hated the study of demography. I hated the long hours I spent in the computer lab entering individual data points, one criterion at a time. All those hours spent in the lab enabled me to run a calculation that only took five minutes. It barely seemed worth the time and the effort. I was sad and lonely during those first months in Philadelphia. I didn’t have much of a social life. I quickly decided to get as far away from academic research as possible.
I went into elementary education and became a teacher. My days were spent educating and nurturing the next generation (I guess I didn’t get as far away as I had planned). I loved my job, and probably would have remained in schools for a really long time if lupus hadn’t come along. I transitioned into professional development instead, so that I could make better money and work fewer hours.
In the last ten years, I have thought about going back to school from time to time. I even went as far as studying for and taking the LSAT five years ago. I applied to law school and was accepted at American University. But it didn’t feel right. I couldn’t justify foregoing my salary for three years to get an entry-level job as an attorney at a nonprofit making half that salary. The numbers just didn’t add up.
Three years ago, things began to fall into alignment. My position with an education nonprofit was unexpectedly terminated, and I decided not to get another full-time job. I was able to get consulting work, and used my “free time” to pursue my other dream of opening a yoga studio in my neighborhood. When that closed down after 16 months, I had no desire to try again. I had given business ownership my all, but it wasn’t for me. With nothing keeping me in DC any longer, I decided it was time to think about moving to a warmer locale with sunnier weather. I wanted to see what life would be like without the “winter blues.”
During this same time, I was in the second year of my three-year contract with the DC State Superintendent of Education. I saw the schools making progress, but it was slow and incremental. In the meantime, hundreds of students in the four schools with which I was working were getting shortchanged in their learning. I was doing my best. The principals were doing their best. Even the teachers were doing all that they knew and were able to do. But in my estimation, we were coming up short. There had to be a better way—a more effective strategy for school turnaround. I began to wonder where in the country I could find examples of successful school improvement and what were the conditions for their success. One day, I realized I was thinking like an academic. I decided I maybe was ready to finally pursue that doctoral degree for which I had been groomed so many years before.
Once my decision was made, the rest seemed easy. I spent my summer off studying for the GRE, and aced it. I narrowed my focus to California and Texas, and researched doctoral programs that focused on the social interactions within organizations. Folks agreed to write letters of recommendation, and I worked to put together a compelling statement of purpose for each school. When all the elements of my applications were complete, I waited and trusted the outcomes to the Divine. I was admitted to Berkeley and Stanford. Spending the last week on their campuses with my potential colleagues brought this whole decision-making process to a conclusion. I could see myself on those campuses, and was eager to join the academy.
But it would be untruthful not to admit that I also am completely overwhelmed. I have a ton to do, including finding a property manager and tenants for the home I own. I also will leave behind some pretty amazing friends and an incredible support system. But I know being a full-time student is what my heart desires. And I know it is never too late to pursue your dreams. In a few years, you can call me Dr. Moore.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.