I’ll just come out and say it: I’m a high school dropout.
I don’t say it proudly, nor do I say it with resentment. I say it because it is a simple fact and part of who I am. I feel no reason to hide it or to be ashamed of it. This simple fact made me into the person I am today — a person of whom I am growing quite fond.
High school dropouts have a bad rap. You know it; I know it; everyone knows it.
The majority of people who hear the words “high school dropout” immediately jump to the conclusion the person is an uneducated, lazy drain on society, collecting government funds, involved in crime and drugs and, well, stupid, to say it bluntly.
Are these accurate assumptions we should be making? Should there be a generalized stigma regarding high school dropouts?
I don’t think there should be because not every single high school dropout is completely or even remotely close to being any of these things. Just because someone has dropped out of high school doesn’t immediately make him or her a useless person.
There are many reasons for teens to drop out of high school that have nothing to do with a lack of ability to absorb information in class.
These reasons can include bullying, boredom, a lacking of positive relationships with fellow peers and teachers and personal reasons (i.e. teen pregnancy, death of a loved one, serious illnesses, etc.).
These are just a few of the countless possible factors people are unaware of when they think of a high school dropout.
I, for example, dropped out when I was just 14 years old due to bullying issues at school, problems at home, depression and anxiety. Teachers not putting in the effort to make me (a freshman) feel welcomed also contributed.
I also had to deal with racial issues from a teacher and a general lack of care coming from three of the four teachers I had my first semester.
This all left me with the feeling of not belonging or being wanted. To cope, I started skipping classes regularly. Eventually, I stopped going altogether.
This is why I dropped out. I wasn’t stupid; I just wasn’t motivated.
Right now, at 21 years old, I realized the mistakes I made. What I should have done was toughed it out, spoken to the principal regarding issues I had with teachers, and if that didn’t work, taken it a step higher and confronted someone on the school board.
One time, when I decided to actually attend a class rather than skip it, a teacher got in my face and practically yelled at me for not making eye contact with him while he spoke to me.
I became the problem because I started skipping school. Though I started skipping school because of bullying, I figured if I complained, I would never be taken seriously because I was already seen as the problem.
Now, I’m working in food service, which is something I’ve been doing since I was about 16. I live at home, pay rent and share utilities. I buy my own clothes and pay for my own phone gym membership.
I don’t collect assistance of any kind. I work hard. I put 110 percent effort into my job. My previous employers wouldn’t have a negative comment to make about me, nor would my current employers.
Although, ideally, I don’t want to be working in food service, my options are limited. But, I don’t just coast through the day, oblivious to the fact that I don’t have an education.
In fact, there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about it. I work five days a week, I don’t sell drugs on the side and I contribute to society.
For now, this is what I do, and I do it well. That said, don’t think for a second I’m settling with this for the rest of my life. I know it won’t get me far.
However, the positive side of this experience is it has taught me valuable life lessons I’ll hopefully be able to pass on to my children in the future.
I may not know the first thing about algebra right now, but I can tell you with utmost certainty, I'm intelligent.
Being a high school dropout isn’t easy. These experiences have made me a stronger person. I’ve become vocal of my opinions and ideas; I've become someone I never thought I would be. I honestly don’t believe I’d be the person I am today if I had stayed in school.
All that said, I would never support a teen dropping out of school. There are always other, better options. You don’t want to end up being 20 years old and limited in what you can do.
You can’t rely on sheer dumb luck to get you places. Hard work and determination are what will take you far.
The only advice I have for people who have never encountered a high school dropout is that upon coming across one, withhold judgment. In fact, give him or her a chance.