There’s a girl I knew from middle school who went to the same college that I did. We had been great friends in the past, and so going to the same college was looking like it was going to be pretty exciting experience!
But then I dropped out.
I dropped out of college and she stayed, and quite honestly I was pretty ashamed to talk to her after that. In fact, the majority of people that I see around town who are home on break often get told that the job I’m working at is my “summer job” while I’m “home from school.” I just don’t mention that I’ve been home from school for four years.
I would have been a graduate this year, which is hitting home that much more now that everyone is posting photos of themselves wearing their graduation cap while standing strategically in the most picturesque place on their campuses. It’s even more poignant now that my friend from middle school is posting them. I could have been in those pictures.
The irony here is that—college dropout that I was and lamenter that I am—I am currently enrolled in an undergraduate program. But the shame of not being a graduate this year has all of my feelings of inadequacy coming back to me. Particularly in the form of my near back-breaking course load that I’ve been taking in order to (hopefully) receive my diploma next year.
Next year is close enough to this year, I keep telling myself.
Graduating next year will prove to myself and my family and everyone else that I was only a “little bit” of a failure, because it feels like I’ve failed at something really important.
The truth is, I haven’t. It’s not important when you graduate, and frankly I’m grateful for the amount of “Life Experience (TM)” that I’ve gained working retail jobs for the past four-ish years. I do think it is important to get an education past high school, particularly when it has been documented that someone with higher education will earn about 27% more (Pew Research Center 2014), but I also think that we are far too interested in determining the success of a person through their progression through the pedagogically dictated timeline of high school to college to life.
Middle and upper class urban America, particularly in the Bay Area where I’m from, is so obsessed with perceived success. This obsession has reduced the lives of happy non-college graduates to virtual invisibility. This has to change. We can’t have the only success stories of college drop-outs be the ones of people who have made billions of dollars a la Bill Gates. You don’t have to be on a magazine’s “people to watch for list” to live a successful and happy life without a college degree, just like how that isn’t the only measure for being a successful college graduate.