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Why I Threw Away My High School Diploma

Why I Threw Away My High School Diploma_5fbec4148b598.jpeg
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Why I Threw Away My High School Diploma

Why I Threw Away My High School Diploma

This weekend a paper in New York state reported that 70 percent of students at State University of New York colleges need to take remedial courses—this is something I know too well.

I’ve been one of those students in remedial classes, and up until recently I lived every day feeling guilty about it. I thought I was stupid and the only one who had fallen behind. I didn’t know I was part of a national crisis.

However, I can’t fully blame my schools. I was a hard case, probably someone my teachers didn’t know what to do with. I didn’t even know what to do with myself.

Going to school was never easy, I battled my own anxieties and fears every day.

I’d miss consecutive days of school and when my mom was finally out of excuses for my absence, I had to sit in school counselors’ offices while they repeatedly asked me why I wasn’t showing up, why I was so scared.

I never had an answer, so instead I just cried. Then they usually called my mom to get me or sent me back to class with a bright red face and a handful of tissues. I probably spent more time in the counselor’s office than I did in the classroom.

There were reasons for my tears, even if I couldn’t articulate them at the time. You see, when I was 13 my mother attempted to take her life for the first time—and a handful more times after that. I don’t blame her, though. She wasn’t given a chance at happiness. The cards have never been dealt in her favor.

But my mom’s breaking point was also mine. My sister and I became afraid to leave our house. We didn’t know if we’d come home to our mother or not. She would promise us she was okay, but deep down we knew she wasn’t. So I missed school, a lot.

I would go back and forth between being homeschooled and being chronically absent. My saving grace was a good memory and the fear of settling for a GED (which people began to recommend).

Junior year I missed 80-something days of school and received straight A’s. That perfect report card was the biggest lie I was ever told.

Maybe my teachers thought they were helping me, but instead they did a huge disservice to my self-confidence. They did the favor of graduating me “on time” and handing me a meaningless piece of paper. Today, it just brings me shame.

My tutor at the time tried to get me to walk in graduation, “with my peers.” I refused. I knew I didn’t deserve to be there. My diploma came in the mail and for years I never displayed it. I hid it under my bed and finally just threw it away.

After high school I enrolled in my local community college. I took remedial courses and spent most of my financial aid just catching up.

I was determined to transfer to a university in two years and finish in four. Most semesters I took 18-21 credit hours (while my peers normally took 12-15) usually while working full-time. I managed to transfer to Lewis University after three years, and two years later I graduated with high honors and a couple of awards. I was lucky enough to land a stellar internship, and then found a great job just a few months later.

I know I worked hard, but truthfully, I was just lucky and God was on my side. I thank Him everyday for that, because I know just how close I was to being another statistic in this national crisis.

Photo courtesy of Hanna Grace Frank.
What Is the Belief Gap?Too often, students of color and those who face challenging circumstances are held to lower standards simply because of how they look or where they come from. Close the Belief Gap →

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