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Expressway: Student loan is paid, and I'm smarter for it

Expressway writer Susan Scalone of Shoreham with then-Stony

Expressway writer Susan Scalone of Shoreham with then-Stony Brook University President Shirley Strum Kenny at Scalone's graduation in 1999. Photo Credit: Susan Scalone

Good news came in the mail recently. My friend Sallie Mae sent me a letter informing me that my college loans were -- ta-dah -- paid up!

I've been pals with Sallie Mae, otherwise known as the nation's largest servicer of federally guaranteed student loans, for a while now. We first got acquainted when I was newly single in the early 1990s and raising three children while working full time as a school secretary. That's when I decided to go back to school for the education I always wanted but couldn't afford -- until Sallie gave me the opportunity.

The adventure started at Suffolk County Community College in Selden. In a women's history class, I discovered a group of spirited, savvy sisters who were as enthusiastic about school as I was. The flower of learning had begun to bloom.

After receiving an associate's degree in women's studies, I was encouraged by friends to continue. Stony Brook University was not far, so when Sallie gave me the push, I was on my way to pursuing a bachelor's in English literature. As my immersion in literature grew, I never felt out of place as an adult student. I was always welcomed by professors and my fellow students.

School did, however, take juggling. On weekends I cooked dinners in advance to provide my family with daily nutritious meals. Weekdays I sent my children off to school, traveled to work, drove to campus, and finally returned to housework and homework. I often felt as though I were Don Quixote riding Rocinante to the (impossible) windmills. But the support of my children, friends, professors, and the co-workers in my school job gave me courage to persevere and, finally, shake the hand of Shirley Strum Kenny, then president of Stony Brook, at graduation in 1999.

Those wonderful people just wouldn't let up, so I went ahead and enrolled in Stony Brook's graduate-level English literature classes. In a Renaissance studies class I met Suyeon, a young student from Korea who aspired to teaching. I was fascinated by her notes written in Korean characters. Knowing Suyeon taught me to appreciate the diversity of the student population as well as its imagination and creativity.

So, after reading a multitude of books, logging hours of study, attending inspiring lectures, and writing countless papers, I got two things in 2003: a master's degree and a coupon book from Sallie Mae with a monthly payment plan.

This adventure helped me to discover something else: It is never too late. To anyone who is even contemplating a return to school, please go with your heart and give it a try. There are so many Long Island colleges and trade schools within commuting distance. I promise you, it will be a positive experience.

My grandfather, Antonio Scalone, came to the United States from Italy with nothing but a strong work ethic. He hoped that I would someday go to college; that was his American Dream for me. Now I can encourage my grandchildren to find new discoveries in learning. And if needed, there's a gal named Sallie ready and willing to assist.

Reader Susan Scalone lives in Shoreham.