Fill in the blank: When Life gives you lemons, _______.

Fill in the blank: When Life gives you lemons, _______.

Most people answer that question easily, probably while rolling their eyes and groaning audibly. It's become a cliché. But when I awoke to a pile of those sour fruits on my breakfast plate, I knew I'd better find a new recipe.

A divorce, after 13 years of marriage, was one of the lemons in that pile. A chronic health problem was a second lemon, especially because most workplace environments are off limits for me. A third lemon? My lack of a college degree. This sour fruit has been with me ever since I left Temple University back in 1980, after my son was born. When I finally woke from my divorce daze, that college diploma was my sour lemon inspiration.

But what kind of degree? To do what kind of work? I needed a plan that my supportive friends were not able to help me create. Luckily, I found the Bright Futures program at Rogue Community College. This get-your-life-on-track set of classes evolved from the Women in Transition programs that began back in the '80s. It was created to deal with all the women floundering with unexpected lemons. Updated and adapted for all people, it's offered for free by RCC. (That's right F-R-E-E.)

And so, along with an eclectic assortment of other folks in transition, I began looking at, well, me. What I had done, my skills, interests, successes, failures and importantly, my real world employment options paired with education requirements. What an upgrade from the feel-your-way-along-the-dark-cave-wall decision making I'd used in the past. Support from faculty and staff guided me as I made my way through lists of choices. The panic I'd felt in the early stages of my process faded and a very appealing future took shape.

Now at Southern Oregon University, I'm just a handful of classes away from my diploma — a Bachelor of Science in sociology. I entered school at age 55, older than many of my teachers. But that hasn't stopped me from connecting with other students. And I'm not alone. About 20 percent of the students at SOU are over 30 years old. Many students commute and the university tries to make it easy for us, with a lounge full of computers, a microwave, and even easy chairs for napping between classes.

University classes are demanding. Imagine elementary statistics after a 30-year hiatus from math classes. Or 15-page papers with citations from eight to 10 academic journals. How about two of those imposing assignments due the same week as your stats test? And then when your computer eats one of the papers and you have to write it over again — in 24 hours. Whew.

During that first quarter I struggled to keep up, but I'm focused now. Statistics and academic research papers are part of my real world. Last winter I fell, broke my hip and needed surgery. Winter term classes had just started and my first priority was to stay on track for my degree. I had surgery on a Friday, missed two classes and went to school with a walker and crutches for the rest of the term. I made the president's honor list. Let me tell you — being a brainiac feels good!

I never expected to enjoy school so much. My experience in community organizations and as a news reporter bring real life context to class material. My professors have been very supportive. OK, I admit it. Being inducted into the sociology honor society with my 20-something classmates, I felt a little goofy. But my vision of standing in a cap and gown, honor cord over my shoulder, accepting my college diploma? It's a mighty fine dream, silver hair and all.

As a lover of both wilderness and society, I want the best of both worlds. The young people I meet everyday inspire me, as do my own kids. I aim to do my part in creating a sustainable future with research on successful communities and spreading the word.

Mmm, mmm, good. Tasty lemons.