College, And What It Did To Me

There are a number of topics in my life that I avoid writing about, even though this is the place to get it all out.  I have my reasons for keeping some things about myself private, but that’s not to say my resistance to sharing who I am isn’t weakening.  College is one of the themes I have avoided since, well, about the time I was 18 or 19.  I have my own opinions on college, all of which were formed by my experiences, so while my feelings are strong, they are not always agreed with by others.  Then again, I feel a great deal of what others believe about college is force fed to them through a society that values a stamp on a piece of paper over the true efforts of the individual.  Despite everything you may want to believe, to me, college is still a place for the upper middle class to dwell for a few years before going on to lucrative careers doing tedious office work that will make them more money than those in lower positions who probably work harder on day to day basis.  Before I get too opinionated, let’s go back to the beginning.

1999.  That was when it all ended.  June 11, 1999, I said good-bye to high school.  I had been a smart kid and I went to a good private high school.  It turns out, going to a private school doesn’t make you any smarter, just like buying $100 sneakers doesn’t make you jump any higher or run any faster.  The lesson I had yet to learn was that it is the effort of the person that matters, not the name branded on the archways.  I was still naive enough at the time to believe that to get ahead in life, you had to have the name brand merchandise, and that included colleges.  Despite my hesitance to venture abroad, throughout my four years in high school I simply imagined I would trot off to a university like Duke upon graduation and live in that magical fantasy world of college life away from home.  As senior year neared the end, I started realizing a few truths about life that would hold me back from attending such a university, however, my college counselors assured me I could go anywhere I liked.  The problem was, I didn’t want to go anywhere.  We had meetings, one on one, all year long with folks whose sole job was to get me to select a college and then do everything they could to get me into that college.  I took my SAT’s and scored very well.  (It may have been a fluke, but whatever, it made me feel smart.)  I scored well enough to apply to many second tier type schools.  Yale and Duke were probably out, but there were plenty of others in my range.  I sat with my counselor as he rattled off name after name of schools that held no interest to me.  He asked what I wanted to do, the question we all get asked at 18 years old.  What do you want to do for the rest of your life?  And we’re supposed to have an answer.  Maybe I am the odd one for not having an answer, as so many of my classmates found the college application process to be so easy.  The only definitive answers I could give regarding my college selection was that I did not want to be far from home.  At the time, it did not occur to me that there is a state college not far from my home where I could have gone very inexpensively and not had to worry about selling my soul in order to get a college loan.  My counselors would have none of that though.  Their job was to get me into a school with a name, and state schools were not even an after thought.  In order to stay close to home, I would have to go to Fairfield University, the closest liberal arts school in reach.  To this day I still can’t tell you what liberal arts is, but I applied, I got in, and I went.  I couldn’t tell you what about the school appealed to me.  Maybe the colors reminded me of high school and maybe the fact that it was only half an hour from my home were enough to sell me on it.  Somehow I thought if I stayed close to home I could hold onto the life I had so enjoyed for the last four years, but that was another truth that hit me hard in the face.

My friends all left.  All of my dearest companions from high school packed their bags and sailed off to colleges all over the country while I stayed close to home.  I tried to acclimate myself to Fairfield, but it just never felt right.  I felt like I was in a strange place among strange people and the only time I was comfortable was when I drove 45 minutes to work so I could at least have something familiar in my day to day life.  Yes, I held onto my job, even after moving into a dorm, for a number of reasons, the most important being I desperately needed money.  You see, while my counselors reveled in the fact they could help each and every student attend a respectable university, they never once offered an idea as to how someone such as myself would pay for it.  As I said, I went to a pretty good private school and many of my classmates came from families with a lot of money.  A lot.  I was not so fortunate.  If I was going to attend Fairfield University, I was going to take out a loan for $14000.  That covered one year.  Sure, society likes to assure you that everyone takes out loans and you simply pay them back when you graduate, but don’t worry, you’ll have a great job when you graduate and repaying your loans will be a piece of cake.  What a line they feed you.  And I believed it.  I believed everything they told me and thought everything would be great, until I got there and my life was turned upside down.

Like I said, I did my best to acclimate myself, but after 5 weeks, I had had enough.  I hated the people, I hated the classes, I hated the fact that I was paying for something that to me felt repetitive.  The classes were teaching me things I had already learned in high school.  Every hour spent in class was an hour I could have been working to pay for the classes I didn’t want to be taking in the first place.  It was a vicious cycle and I grew more and more bitter by the day.  I tried talking to my friends, as we all had instant messengers back then and we could talk all the time, except that most of my friends were quickly discovering how many parties they could attend or that sleeping until 3 in the afternoon was a great option when you didn’t have class.  I did tell a few of my friends how unhappy I was and their advice was to simply stick it out.  Well, I am not one to stick it out.  If I am unhappy with something, I change it, and change it I did.

Columbus Day Weekend.  No classes between Friday and Tuesday.  I was done.  I packed my things and drove home, not to spend the weekend, but to move back in.  I was done with college and to hell with what others thought.  This officially brought me to what I call the darkest period of my life.  My decision to abandon school was not met with open arms from my mother, as she threatened to throw me out of the house and a number of other unpleasant things.  I think the only thing that saved me was that it was my money, not her’s that I was throwing away.

I was able to recover some of the loan money and after spending a year thinking over my life, I did in fact end up attending the local state college for a few years.  This is not where the story becomes happy, because unfortunately, this particular school was an absolute joke.  I reached a point where I could no longer tolerate being told what to do by people who clearly had no idea what they were doing in the first place and I finally decided I would simply discuss being a permanent full time employee for my boss.  While this decision was finally a decision I felt I could be happy with, it would still be sometime before I truly felt happy with my life again.

The reason I don’t often talk about my college experiences is because I don’t want to influence anyone else’s choices.  While I think undergraduate school is the biggest waste of time and money one can spend, it is not for me to make that choice for someone else.  Yes, I think college is a scam.  It is a huge business and it thrives on taking advantage of those like me, who in all honesty can not afford it but are told it is the only way to be successful in our society.  We take out loans and do whatever it takes to pay for something that, in the end, isn’t going to define who you are as a person.  I am not the sticker on the rear view mirror of a BMW.  I don’t care what college you went to.  If you’re an asshole, you’re an asshole, a master’s degree doesn’t change that.  I learned too late in life that all that matters to people is status.  Income, cars, two-car garages, these are the things that matter, not who we are as people, and it makes me sick.

Look, some of us have no direction in life, and if college is the only way to offer some guidance, then by all means, those people should attend.  I have said many times that my biggest regret in life is not dropping out of school, but going to school in the first place.  I have my job, and were it not for college, I would not have a $41000 debt to repay.  I would be living like a king instead of paycheck to paycheck and more importantly, I would be happy.  Listening to what others said would make me happy is my second biggest regret.  I knew all along i would not be happy in college.  No, I didn’t have any clue how I wanted to spend the rest of my life, but in my heart I always knew college was not for me.  I should have listened to myself and not everyone around me, because everyone around me did not have to live with the consequences of my choices.

I had a talk with one of my employees the other day and that’s what brought this all about.  I was hesitant at first to share my experiences with her, but she is at a point much like I was 12 years ago.  She thinks she has to go to a prestigious college, but she hated the first one she attended and now she is dropping another 40k to go somewhere else.  I wish  her luck in all she does, but i cautioned her to make her own decisions, as that is what she will have to live with for the rest of her life.

Eventually, I had to accept the choices I had made, accept that I had allowed others to influence me, and accept that unfortunately there will be people who judge me based on status and not the person I am.  I came out of the darkness realizing that I can make my own happiness and there are more important things in life than a degree in something useless.  If people think me giving up on college means I don’t want to better myself, they are wrong.  I enjoy learning new things, I love to read, and I still try to write as often as I can.  I still have hopes and dreams and I still plan on accomplishing many things in my life.  Sometimes I feel like I have come to a standstill, but I am not one to let things stand in my way.  I am stubbornly determined and I can be successful without an expensive piece of paper.  I know not all will agree with me, but I also know there are those who will, and maybe someday I’ll find those people.

~ by James on August 23, 2013.

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