Thursday, September 19, 2013

I'm a High School Dropout

It's true. I finished tenth grade, then dropped out of high school shortly after eleventh grade began. This has been a source of shame and embarrassment for me for many years. I didn't plan to drop out of high school. In fact, up until ninth grade, I dreamed of the day when I would leave home and go to college. My intended field of study changed often. In elementary school I was going to be a writer. Then it was a businesswoman of some sort, then a marine biologist, maybe a teacher. It was hard to decide, because the possibilities were endless, and it all seemed so interesting and wonderful. I've always had a love of reading and learning. It only made sense that I would finish high school and go on to higher education. Neither of my parents had college degrees. My mom had a high school diploma, and my dad  had a ninth grade education. I never thought of school as something that was expected of me the way it was expected of some of my close friends. But, I wanted an education.

Then, I went through some mid-teenaged crazies. I ran away from home, got married, made a lot of bad choices, and quit going to school. By the time my classmates were getting ready to walk at the graduation ceremony, I was expecting my first child. I regretted dropping out from the moment I did it, but I didn't have the self-discipline to make myself keep going. I'd heard all the lectures of how dropping out of high school would mean living in a cardboard box and panhandling on the side of the road for the rest of my life. It would mean that I was stupid and worthless and would never amount to anything. One of the bad things about these scare tactics is that for some students, they only work to make them feel stupid and worthless and that they will never amount to anything. Case in point: me. With respect to my teachers, they probably didn't say those exact words, but that was the message I got. So, I got my GED when my daughter was about eight months old. For the rest of my young life I did my best to avoid any conversation about high school or education, so I wouldn't have to admit that I didn't have one.

I still squirm a little when I think about my past, but I feel moved to talk about it now. I recently read about Mark Wahlberg getting his high school diploma at age 42. I love that he is being so open about it. How many people will look at him and say, "He didn't have a high school diploma? But, he's so successful!" I hope that people can hear his story and realize that we are not enslaved by our past. We can move forward and make things right. Everyone has their own reasons for wanting an education, whether it's to have more opportunities for employment, to set an example for others, or just to feel increased self-confidence and enlightenment. Mark Wahlberg said that his kids were his greatest motivation to finish. I can relate. I don't want my kids to be first-generation graduates. When you know that your parents finished school, you feel empowered to finish, too.

Now I'm 40 years old, and I do not live in a cardboard box. In fact, I have a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and I'm a registered dietitian. My husband, who also did not finish high school, went back to school and got a technical degree and has a respectable job at a local refinery. While we certainly aren't wealthy, we have never panhandled a day in our lives and have had little help from outside resources. I will always look upon others who have not finished high school with compassion and hope. I will always try to see them at their full potential and do what I can to encourage them to move forward. I will always encourage my children to finish high school and move forward to college and develop the knowledge and skills to prepare them, not just for a job, but for life.

From the article on Mark Wahlberg in Time: “To those students struggling every day and – most importantly — to those who are looking for a second chance,” the actor wrote at the end of his column, “I have a message for you: never give up. Keep believing in yourselves and don’t make small plans.”

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