How I became a CC student at 45

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Dave Paone
Campus News
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I’ve been there, done that. And by “that” I mean college. I graduated high school at 18 years-old in June of 1982. Since I just loved photography (the old-fashioned kind, in a darkroom), I attended college the following September as a photojournalism major at an art school in New York City. I knew that photojournalism was a tough field, so I minored in art education as well – just in case. I took all the required education classes, clocked in 300 hours of student teaching and took the necessary National Teachers’ Exam (or NTE) to obtain my certification. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
In May of 1986, I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Honors in photojournalism and received my art teacher certification, kindergarten though 12th grade.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I didn’t go into photojournalism. I didn’t go into education. I went into the movie business instead. Eventually I became an assistant cameraman and worked on such shoots as “Billy Joel Live at Yankee Stadium,” “Law & Order,” “New York News” (with Mary Tyler Moore), “Rear Window” (with Christopher Reeve) and a handful of other high-profile jobs. I also wrote several scripts in an attempt to start my own TV series. I moved to Burbank, California, and became “bi-coastal,” living in my “bachelor pad” and back home on Long Island, depending where the work was.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
While all of this sounds great, the sad truth is with the exception of “Law & Order,” every TV series I was on was just awful and got cancelled. Jobs like “Billy Joel Live at Yankee Stadium” were for one day. My problems were compounded when my contacts in the industry dried up one by one. While NBC loved one of my scripts, a development executive said, “There’s no way in hell this will wind up on NBC. It’s too intelligent.”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Over the course of 10 years, I found myself deep in credit card debt and thousands of dollars in Dutch to my parents. It was time to give up the bachelor pad and move back home for good.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Here I was, over 40 years-old, and living with mommy and daddy again with no job and a whole lot of debt.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I applied for jobs upon jobs with no success. Three years went by and I was a full-fledged bum. My teacher certification expired in 1992, and no district would let me apply without it. As the months went on, I had a sneaking suspicion it was time for me to renew the thing somehow, leave the TV business behind and become a high school art teacher.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It cost $100 for me to ask, but I found out from Albany exactly what I needed to re-up my certification. The NTE no longer counted; I had to take three new tests at $88 each. I had to take two workshops at $40 each. And I had to go back to college.
Back to college!? For what?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
For one education class, one math class and one foreign language class. It seems neither math nor foreign language was necessary for a Bachelors in 1986. The education class was something new they added. I kept the list and told no one that I had asked Albany.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
To complicate matters, in recent years my father started showing the signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Then my mother, who was as sharp as at tack at age 86, was diagnosed with cancer.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Things went from bad to worse and before we knew it, my mother was at the end. As she lay on her deathbed, she told me she was forgiving my debt. I said I still have every intention of paying it back. However… what I really need is to go back to school. I told her I had contacted Albany, and I knew what I needed to renew my certification. She said, “Go back to school. I’ll pay for it.” She died a few days later.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
So this past August I enrolled at Adelphi University on Long Island for the one education class and at Nassau Community College for the math and foreign language classes. All three were for one semester.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
My Spanish class at NCC began with a full roster but soon enough several students dropped, and I found myself the only boy in a class with about eight girls. We had a lot of laughs with this ratio as the subject. The odd thing for me was I was twice most everyone’s age, although there was one girl who was married and a mother already.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
My math class was another story. It was a full class and everyone was under 25, and I don’t think there was one parent in there. The really funny part for me was the teacher looked about 17. (I later found out she was 29.). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
At my first college, their claim to fame was the teachers were “working professionals.” Very few of them had college degrees themselves. A few had a Bachelors and certainly no one had a Ph D. It was all very informal, and we called them by their first names.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
All the students at NCC called the teachers “professor.” One day in math class I called my teacher by her first name. This came as a bit of a surprise to her. She wasn’t insulted, at least I don’t think she was, but I was probably the first student to do so.
There was no way I was going to call her professor. I was already shaving when she was born. Plus I’m just not that formal. When I met Bob Hope I called him Bob. I call my dentist Steve.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
My Spanish teacher had about two years on me. I wasn’t going to call her professor, either.
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Perhaps this is somewhat rude of me, but I’m very informal and I hate it when someone calls me “mister.” (Mr. Paone is my father.). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Although I never pursued photojournalism, I continued to shoot pictures when I found an interesting subject. NCC presented a couple. On a few occasions, after Spanish class, I asked some of my classmates to stay to have portraits taken. I wasn’t exactly sure what finished product I was looking for, but if they were willing to give it a go, and they were, then I may get something decent. I’m pleased to say I may have a few new pictures to add to my portfolio.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
While all of this sounds rather painless – how bad can three classes for one semester be? – I was very worried about the math class. I’m an artist!  What do we know about math?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I took Logic and Set Theory because it sounded the easiest of all the classes listed. It wasn’t so easy. At least not for me. The class was twice a week, and we had homework after each class. I was finding it all too confusing and Heather (the professor) recommended I go to the Math Success Center the school has.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I found myself there at least twice a week. I was surrounded by math geeks (the tutors who worked there) as well as other students just as confused as I was. Believe it or not, I found this room and the people in it a major sense of comfort and support. Thanks to the tutors, I was able to keep up with my homework, and I received full credit for the assignments. Without them I would have given up.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Heather was extremely fair with the grades. I still can’t believe it, but I ended with class with a B. Silvina, my Spanish teacher, was also very fair and I wound up with a B in her class, too. And for the record, I received an A minus in the education class at Adelphi.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I’ve completed all the requirements to renew my certification, and I’m awaiting it from Albany. The first time around it came in the mail but now it’s on line. (In 1986, there was no such word as “Internet.”). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I’m still in contact with one of the girls from Spanish class as well as one of the math tutors. I was also able to meet the curator of the school’s art gallery and I applied for an exhibit. I attended a reception last month. It looks like my association with NCC may last a lot longer than the one semester I was a student there.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I guess it only goes to show that life can send you places you never thought you’d go. And if one of those places is a community college, then that’s a pretty good thing.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Dave Paone tells his whole story in his autobiography, Mickey Rooney Was Right, to be published by Author House this month. He can be found at www.DavidPaone.com and dptheac@yahoo.com.

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