Michael Waugh, a full-time Lord Fairfax Community College (LFCC) student with 22 years of service in the U.S. Coast Guard, didn't think he could afford to attend college until he began to consider attending LFCC.
"I didn't think I had the time or money, but when I was looking around, Heather Painter [then LFCC's outreach counselor, now known as Heather Burton, dual enrollment coordinator] said to me, 'You can do this,'" said Waugh, a Berryville resident.
He looked at other schools but found them cost prohibitive, and he also liked LFCC's small, friendly campus. Waugh began classes in August 2006 and is working toward a degree in education with the goal of becoming a high school or junior college teacher or counselor.
Awhile ago, Waugh said he found himself at a crossroads in his life and wanted to get his life back in order. While a patient at the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., the chaplain there told Waugh about Father Pascal, a monk from Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville.
"Before I met him, I thought he was going to give me the secrets of the universe, but when I got there, we sat down and laughed for an hour and a half straight," Waugh said.
He began visiting the monastery regularly, and they worked out a deal – Waugh lives at the monastery in exchange for working as guest master for the monastery's retreat quarters.
"I make sure people feel welcome and get fed, along those lines," Waugh said. "It's a nice arrangement."
Waugh said that because he did not attend college at a younger age, he wanted to have the full experience and get involved beyond simply attending classes. He has been involved in LFCC plays, the Forensics Team and the Fairfax Follies. He also served as president of the newly created Anglo Celtic club, which recently traveled to Ireland.
The club, he said, has 20 active members of all ages and was named the club of the year at an LFCC assembly.
"That's pretty good considering we just got started," he said.
Anything to do with drama and literature interests Waugh, which is why he would like to focus on those subjects in the education field.
"Maybe I can do some good as an educator," he said.
One way LFCC has helped him get closer to his goal of teaching is by helping him overcome his fear of public speaking through a public speaking class.
"I had a horrible fear of speaking in public, and I went from that to being the lead in an LFCC play," Waugh said. "I couldn't have done that without LFCC."
Waugh was also asked to introduce Sen. Jim Webb when Webb spoke at LFCC.
As a nontraditional student, Waugh said that initially he wasn't sure whether he should go back to college later in life.
"I'm going to be 50 years old this year, but someone said to me, 'You're going to be 50 whether you're in school or not,'" he said.
Waugh believes that starting over is a natural rhythm of life, and he was inspired by a quote from Seamus Heaney, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1995 and who coincidentally grew up on the same farm as Waugh's grandfather in Northern Ireland:
"Getting started, keeping going, getting started again -- in art and in life, it seems to me this is the essential rhythm not only of achievement but of survival, the ground of convinced action, the basis of self-esteem and the guarantee of credibility in your lives, credibility to yourselves as well as to others."
Waugh's advice to anyone interested in attending LFCC is simple. "Just keep trying. I went from being homeless to being on a pretty good track, and anytime I said that I couldn't, someone from LFCC would tell me that yes, I could."