My husband and I made plans to attend and I RSVP’d as soon as I received the email announcing the west coast stop on August 10th. I found out one person, Pamme Cotter Boutselis, had just joined the group. She and I had connected on Facebook, and I was really looking forward to meeting her. I’d been following her posts and pictures of the tour, watching as students, alumni, professors, and advisors mingled. Through Pamme’s posts, the Big Blue Bus became an icon – a symbol of my college wanting to see me succeed.
People get excited when they find out I’m in college. They even get more excited when I tell them I’ll graduate spring 2014 with my BA in Creative Writing/English. But then the familiar question comes up, “And which local college are you attending?” When I tell them Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) online, they tend to slowly back away, giving me that ‘oh, it’s one of those schools’ kind of a look and the conversation is over.
With the popularity of online schools, I’m always amazed how people put my college in a little box, with preconceived notions it’s not a real college. In fact, it is a brick-and-mortar college with a traditional campus. I just happen to show up via the internet.
I admit sometimes it’s hard to attend a college that’s 3033 miles away in Manchester, New Hampshire. The chance of me ever going out there to meet my advisor, professors or fellow students is quite slim. Although I have made many friends in the online community of students and professors, it’s not the same as meeting people face-to face.
This past August, the most amazing thing happened. Instead of me having to travel to my college, my college came to me – in the form of a Big Blue Bus! SNHU sent a bus full of fantastic people to visit online students across the United States. Calling it the SeeYourselfSucceed Tour, they stopped in quite a few cities in several states, including Santa Monica, California – a mere two hours from my town of Bakersfield.
When we pulled into the parking lot near the Santa Monica pier, I saw the Bus. It was parked and announced we’d come to the right place. As I got out of the car, I was drawn to it and I made my way over to see it up close. The first person I saw was Pamme. We chatted and took pictures. In that moment, I realized how important this tour meant to me and how important I was to the people on the tour.
We met at a restaurant on the pier, Rusty’s Surf Ranch. As we signed in, I was surprised to meet my advisor, Torrey Walker. She had just flown in from New Hampshire just to be at the Santa Monica event. Although we’d worked together by email and phone, meeting her in person was really special. I met many other people too, from advisors, to deans, to professors, and other students. We ate food (lots of food), had silly pictures taken, got lots of swag – “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt” for real.
I received advice from Patrick Hayes on grad school choices. He took the time to really listen and then share different ideas with me. I chatted with other people who knew me from posts on a SNHU writing group on Facebook. And we watched as a new graduate received her diploma in front of the group of about 150 gathered. A special event shared with a special group of people.
I had a chance to visit longer with my friend Pamme. It was nice to talk about kids and life and things other than school assignments. Too soon the event was over and as we hugged and said our goodbyes, I realized how momentous this occasion really was. The group on the Big Blue Bus changed over the summer, but the attitudes and message were the same. They wanted to see us succeed.
In the online world we lack the tangible reminders of things that are real. Words on a page and pictures are fleeting. But when people take the time to meet and let you know you matter, those are tangible feelings that make the difference.
The Big Blue Bus full of people made a difference, in me, that day in Santa Monica.