College — Lies They Told Me

I fear you may think I am a pompous dickehead for saying this but it must be said. Allow me to preface this by saying that I am in no way saying that college is bad. Not at all but that it fails to answer the promise that it calls for. I can show you better than I can tell you though. In America where I grew up, North Carolina to be specific, I was told, like many high school students that college was the way to go after high school. If you don’t go to college, you run the risk of being a failure, a loser, and poor. What I really think about college now — a pack of lies.

I think that colleges and most public schools are an employee factory. Let’s see how many people we can churn out that are docile, specialized, debt laden individuals who will basically do anything to make that expensive piece of paper worth something besides the cost of pride.

These were just my opinions. I used to feel bad about them, degrading myself to the status of hater. But was I truly a hater or a smart observer? What made me really quit school? Did I quit because it was hard or over my head? No. I quit because it was not worth my time and the more I think about it, it may not be worth yours.

Life is funny in a very peculiar way. The best, guaranteed way to get the most out of life is to live it with hindsight vision. Impossible to do.

You get the picture, right? Well I sure got it. The message was posted everywhere. When in middle or high school you are asked why you have to know a certain subject you are quickly told that it may be on the SAT or you need it to get into college. Commercials sold the idea of college like hot cakes.

But what are they actually selling? Debt and hope. Expensive debt and expensive hope. As a poor young black girl, I fell for the trap. I didn’t really know what I even wanted to go to college for but teachers were quick to remind me to stay on track that with my grades, my extracurricular activities, and the color of my skin, I was sure to get into a really good college. I was absofuckingely pumped. College. At home, I received less pressure for college. My mom didn’t graduate college. She graduated high school and took a semester of community college right after high school before dropping out to start a family. My mom was also now convinced that her dropping out of college was the life changer for her. To that end, she made sure to steer us as close as we could to college, by first pushing my dad to do. With a much higher resolve and with the support of my mom, my dad graduated at the top of his class from a small private college in Wilson, nc with a degree in mathematics. You go, Dad!

I was sure to follow. Or was I?

Still fainting almost at the sight of my own blood, I set my heart on the only thing I thought college was for, to make the big fucking bucks. Why else would I sacrifice so much money and time? And what else did I know about college besides thats where doctors and lawyers went to collect them dollar signs? Heart set on the cheddar and having a prized MD behind my name, I easily signed promissory note after promissory note for student loans that would eventually top $54,000 by the end of my 10 year journey.

I wish I could now pause the story or steer the plot down some twisted road that leads back to a rainbow with a pot of gold and a silver trimmed plaque with my degree on it. If I told you that, I would be lying. What happened to the girl with so much promise and hope?

She ended up dropping out of college after attempting 3 years at the university, barely sliding by. After a 10 year span of attempting a mix of everything from community college to online classes, I finally gave up. Why did I try so long so hard? External pressure from family and friends to “just finish” as my mom always put it. Just finish what? Was my retort. This constant battering caused a major rift between mother and I. I was resentful of her pushing me to commit to something that she obviously couldn’t commit to and also her refusal to listen to me about my college issues.

Why Drop out?
I will be honest and say that although I was a good high school student according to my grades, I made a terrible college student. I found it hard to pay attention in class when all I longed to do was experiment and see for myself if I could do the things that I read about in books. I think working ruined me as a college student also. I began working at an alumni call center during the second semester of my freshman year. I needed money. After working, I began volunteering at the hospital, taking my own advice, to see if this med school thing was really for me. Secretly, I was trying to get over my fear of blood. But when I wandered onto the labor and delivery floor and was accidentally mistaken for a nurse passing out at the sight of a slimy baby entering the world, I knew my soon-to-be career in medicine was over. So much for the big bucks.

I continued my love of reading, writing, and solving math problems for fun. Classes became less and less important to me. The idea of graduating still seemed fanciful. Saying fuck matriculation and boring stiff ass classes presented to me as part of a curriculum, I began taking classes simply for the fact that they interested me. Most of them were women studies, sociology, and philosophy classes. In these classes, I did well (at least when I made an actual attempt to turn in the work.) I managed to barely get by with passing grades in the other required classes. Most of my time was spent wandering around being curious. I like to linger around professors and chat with them about their life after class. Most professors seemed to have an underlying disdain for their profession that couldn’t really be explained if I tried to probe further. Most seemed to soften when I confessed that my father was a math and science teacher back home. They relaxed a bit, relaying that the educator profession was sorely understated and highly underpaid. Talks of budget cuts ensued, causing my mind to drift.
I passed many afternoons volunteering for all kinds of projects. Living in a college town, the opportunities were plentiful for doing random weird shit.

Guinea pig
In several occasions, my bread and butter came from being a medical guinea pig. Despite now having completely changed career tracks, I still maintained my pre-med contacts and network. I was often told about research projects that were underway that needed participants. These participants would be compensated for their time. With my usual curiouity, I signed up for as many as was possibly allowed.

Final straw:
The pressure to complete my undergraduate degree became so intense that it caused me to lose several friends. I doubted myself as a person. Self hate had set in. I became depressed and dispppinted in myself. Finally realizing that the burden of college was getting too heavy for me to bare, I made a decision in my heart and mind. At the age of 28, no one is forcing me to do anything. I have to take responsibility for my life and where I am. I chose to let the idea of a college degree go. But before completely letting it go, I had to come to terms with it myself. Why was I holding on so hard to this idea of college that it had left such a profound mark on my mental sanity? Why was it such a sore spot of conversation for me?

I soon realized that the real problem was with me and my internalization of my college dilemma. Although by words I had dismissed college, inside, I had no really let go of that old childhood lie that without a degree, I would be uneducated, poor, and stupid. To get over this hurdle in my life, I knew I had to reconcile my decision to drop out of college and be okay with it and be confident enough to stand behind it.

Coming to this decision and final a conclusion was not easy. But I had to start somewhere.

What did college represent to me, really?

Wss this true? Of course not. Why? Because I was not currently poor and I was far from stupid.

What is my attachment to college?

[PRIDE]

What value had college given me?

[Networking connections, overpriced friends, and BINGE DRINKING]

Could I also find this value other ways?

[YES of course]

But what about learning? Oh, all of those classes I hated taking, what about those? I decided to try to experiment and see if I could get through life without knowing [some weird fact about 15th century Roman art]. Was I worried that a potential employer would quiz me on the birth date of [insert fact about a random famous art painter]. I realized that although I had stopped going to college, learning had never ceased for me. I didn’t give myself credit for the things I had learned outside the auditorium.

For instance I learned:
How taxes really work, who pays them, and who doesn’t;
The way the banking system is set up and what it means to have fiat currency;
Africa is wayyyy bigger than what I initially thought
The Advertising industry was going to ruin us all
how to make to make $20 stretch 20 different ways
how to make a computer game from scratch. (see what I did there;-)

That which cannot be taught be must be lived, experimented. I had completely overlooked the amount of education I had racked up aside from a college classroom. Now that I understood that I wasn’t stupid, it was time to reconcile my pride. At the height of my college career, social media was ablaze. And for college students in the U.S., social media was first our domain. After the short reign of myspace fizzled out, King Facebook took over. And Facebook, as some you may remember was intentionally and initially designed for college students. It was our way of letting each other know where we shall gather for the next binge drinking session because that’s what college is truly for: Affluent binge drinkers to do what they do best.

Social media became my worst enemy after college. During college it stroked my ego and kept my sights on the major party scene that college really turned out to be. I don’t think anyone anywhere will ever party harder than college students. Dead ass serious.

After college however, social media showed me once again what a loser I was as my friends and ex binge drinking compadres graduated and went on to grad school or traveled abroad. Their lives looked so perfect and glamourous. They had done it right. It highlighted for me everything I had done wrong in life. I was a failure. College looked so simple and easy yet why was I not interested? Why could I not finish? I soon made the smartest decision I had made up until that point in my life. I disabled all of my social media accounts.

In doing this, I was able to really complete an honest introspection of my life without the bias influence of social media. I realized that by doing so, I could really think though the college thing. I also talked more to my friends besides just liking pictures and statutes. I found out that most of my friends were just as miserable as I was, if not more. They had struggled to graduate college only to graduate with a mountain of debt, no job experience, and thus no real job prospects. Many of them seemed frustrated by it all. College the experience was great but the overall concept was very shitty they seemed to say without saying it. Many of them went on to grad school in hopes that getting a higher degree would bring them the big bucks that college had promised them. Many still were disappointed.

It became a usual lament amongst college grads that those who never went to college were in a better situation than they were. Many of my college graduate friends worked in fields that had nothing even remotely to do with their degrees whilst Sallie Mae hit them over the head every freak month. They worked sometimes two jobs or jobs they hated just to pay off student loans. Many couldn’t even afford to buy a home because students loans put a major hold on their debt to income ratio. They were, for all intents and purposes, fucked.

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