A Personal Education
And why I came back.
By Rachael Seamands, IUPUI
When I graduated high school, the assumption was that I would spend the summer vacation preparing to head off to college.
Whether or not I would go to school in the fall wasn’t a conversation. Both of my parents went to college, and my siblings and I are lucky enough to have reaped the benefits of their education. That’s not to say that my parents didn’t support whichever path I chose to follow, but the path needed to include receiving a college education.
My GPA in high school wasn’t remarkable, and without my standardized testing scores I would have had a difficult time being accepted anywhere. Nevertheless, in August, I packed up and headed to Ohio to start working toward my bachelor’s degree. I thought of it as a new start, and was excited to leave behind an average high school academic experience in favor of a more successful one in college.
For the first couple of semesters, my enthusiasm kept me taking notes and studying for exams with my dorm mates and my eventual sorority sisters. I felt proud of myself, and I was achieving things that I never thought were possible for me. Sophomore year brought a whole new round of challenges; I was out of the wide, grassy meadow of introductory level courses and into the woods of more advanced ones. I felt old habits returning and let myself slip, clinging to the false hope that had guided me during high school—that I would figure it out eventually. Eventually, I had to drop out of college in Ohio and head home to Indiana to figure out whether or not college was right for me.
Once again, I immediately signed up for classes at IUPUI. Come hell or high water, I would get my degree. Consequently, I didn’t work through my academic issues before biting the bullet and starting immediately at a different school. I was drowning again, and I realized I still had no idea how to swim.
I left school after an especially bad semester and started working at a restaurant in my home town. Unsurprisingly, my family wasn’t thrilled, but they knew, before I did, that there were some lessons that I needed to learn for myself if I was going to return to complete my degree. I had dug myself a hole, and I couldn’t just keep digging. I had to look for another way to move forward.
I hadn’t had a job when I was attending college, so the brand new influx of spending money was making me feel better already. Retail therapy and going out to eat with friends helped me ignore the sinking feeling in my gut about school. I had to pay rent, but I still had enough left over to keep myself busy. I told everyone that I didn’t need to go to school; I would just waitress for the rest of my life. The occasional twenty-five cent raises helped as well—who needed an education?
In the food service industry, like it or not, you are treated with a certain level of degradation by your customers. Some people talk to you like you can’t possibly understand more than the order they rattle off for you. The stigma associated with being a waiter followed me wherever I went, while my friends were heading off to study abroad and beginning internships in their fields of study. I began to feel like I wanted something more for myself, and once that feeling set in, I started researching my choices for returning to school.
One year after I had left, I started back at IUPUI on academic probation and worked my butt off to raise my GPA as soon as possible. I kept repeating to myself that I was going to do everything it took this time, without taking shortcuts or cutting corners. I worked out a system with my parents wherein I would use the rent money from the past year to pay for my tuition, and if I got good grades that semester, they would continue to pay for school. Now I had financial motivation as well, and it made a world of difference. Instead of wanting to get the degree because I was supposed to, I wanted the degree so badly that I couldn’t remember the mindset of the girl who started college before she was ready.
Not everyone’s path has to include college. I know of several successful people who took different roads, including well-known names like Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison and Bill Gates. I don’t believe that whether or not you attend college defines how successful you will be in life. For me, going back to school and getting my degree hasn’t been about needing school to be successful; it’s been about proving to myself that I can accomplish what I thought I never could, and I am a better person for it.
I’m a second semester junior at IUPUI, and I am in the midst of the most academically demanding semester I’ve had thus far. After this, all of my classes will be in my area of study, creative writing, which I have grown to love and of which I am extremely proud. I have had a wonderful internship experience this semester, and I have opportunities awaiting me in the coming year that far exceed the happiness I got from receiving a quarter raise every couple of months.
I don’t regret the year I took off from school, because it was my first glimpse of what it’s like to live and work in the real world. I was taught the value of hard work and of self worth, which were two things that I hadn’t experienced during high school or my first attempt at college. I am working on my degree for myself, and that is a motivation that far outranks the expectations of others and the general standard by which my small-town society operates. Thinking you know what you are capable of, and then exceeding your own expectations, is a reward that fuels your self-confidence and sets up a successful future that is truly worth fighting for.