His Lost Years Behind Him, a Rutgers Senior Prepares to Graduate After Forging a Successful Second Act
A redemptive journey leads to a degree
Commencement is a time for seniors to look back over the last four years and celebrate their accomplishments, savor friendships, and reflect on how their lives have changed.
But Scott McLane, who graduates with a degree in American Studies, looks back over 28 years – all the way to 1983 – when he first arrived on the New Brunswick Campus as a freshman.
McLane, a frank-talking 46-year-old, reflects upon the chasm of years with anguish and regret – but also, more recently, with pride, and hope. For his return in 2008 to Rutgers has been part of a redemptive journey in which he has begun transforming his life from an alcohol-fueled shambles.
McLane is publicly discussing his lost years, and his recovery, because he believes his story may help others who are struggling. He has also spoken extensively to private groups, including convicted drunk drivers, as well as a Students Against Drunk Driving chapter at his old high school.
“The idea that I could take this thing that had carved up my my family, and use it for something positive - that appealed to me," he said. “My life had lost its meaning.”
A native of the Monmouth County community of Hazlet, McLane arrived at Rutgers in 1983, he said, as ‘a totally lost guy’ – emotionally wounded from a volatile family life, socially awkward, and increasingly drawn to strong drink.
“I was always very uncomfortable in my own skin and never felt like I fit in,” he said. “I drink booze and it's like a magic trick, it all goes away and I can interact with people in a social situation.
“Unfortunately, everything else goes away too.”
Indeed, his college career became a series of abrupt fits and starts. He would attend classes for a spell, leave for prolonged periods, then return to start the cycle all over again.
“I think I came for about a year and a half, right out of high school,” he said. “Then I started this entire cycle of in-and-out, in-and-out.”
Finally, it was just ‘out.’
In 1990, his heavy drinking and rowdy behavior at an apartment on the Busch Campus earned him a referral to the university’s counseling center, where a staff member offered him a blunt assessment that has stayed with him till this day: ‘guys like you; they get lost here.’
The next 15 years were a blur of heavy drinking and hardscrabble living. He never married. He had no career. He seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of his father, an alcoholic, who died alone, in an apartment over a bar.
But around 2006, McClane began attending a recovery program, where he found he wasn’t alone in his feelings.
“I heard people talking honestly about stuff that I was never going to tell anyone,” he said. “It was the power of identification, realizing we are not ‘terminally unique.’
He stopped drinking, and in 2008, he drew a deep breath and returned to Rutgers.
“Somebody told me ‘why don’t you pick up the ball where you dropped it?’” McLane said. “I dropped it right here at Rutgers.”
Still, returning to undergraduate studies in his 40s was a potentially humbling experience.
He received crucial support from the University College Community, which welcomed him as a non-traditional student, and the School of Arts and Sciences, where an academic amnesty program expunged his poor GPA from the earlier years once he demonstrated his competence with 12 new credits.
“Scott is the epitome of success as an adult nontraditional student,” said Betsy Feliciano-Berrios, assistant dean at the University College Community. “He so much deserved a second chance.”
The American Studies program has also been a haven, McLane said, because of its relatively small size, friendly atmosphere and the diverse mix of literature, film, television, and music covered in the curriculum.
As commencement looms, McLane feels buoyed by his accomplishments, and excited that a number of his sober friends will attend the ceremony. He is also thinking about his mother, who died in 2008 shortly after he was accepted back into Rutgers.
“She never gave up on me,” he said. “I think she was the only one.”
A special ceremony for graduating students who are in recovery from drugs or alcohol will take place May 16. For more information, contact Frank Greenagel at firstname.lastname@example.org