I've heard a few times now the terms “upper-classmen” and “lower-classmen” referring to our apprentices. Considering I'm thirty years old, I thought those terms were behind me. I never really associated those words with our program, until very recently. I was reflecting on how busy the holiday rush always is for me, and this year even more so. My next two months are marked up weekend to weekend and then my last semester of night school (and of the apprenticeship as a whole) begins.
Day-school (lower-classmen time) was filled with anxiety. Week by week, our stipend checks depended on the ability to pass a test. All spare time was spent either studying material or being worried about whether or not the material stuck in our brains. There was little time or energy to consider other aspects of the trade — what the future may hold, or what options are available, how the organization as a whole works, what benefits we have as employed members, etc. Least of our concerns was how to give back to the very community that has been bolstering us up through these years.
Then came night-school (upper-classmen time). A HUGE breath of relief. No more tests! Yes, attendance still counts, but that's easy enough, considering all else we've been through. The freedom to choose what courses are important to us on an individual level helps tremendously in the realm of being interested in the material — learning for the sake of learning. The release from the grip of anxiety is so sweet, and frees us to open the field of vision and see all else that surrounds us.
Now, as I look forward to these next few weeks, I see that my realm has opened so far and wide, that my time is being filled with activities that do give back to my community. Volunteer opportunities arise, simply through the few connections I've made so far, and by being present and available. With service does come a sense of value and fulfillment that is matched by no other, and I am thankful for every opportunity that arises.