In late August of this year I will be the proud mother of two college students. Two kids on two very different paths…
Destini is eighteen and will graduate Salutatorian of her senior class in a few weeks. She has been accepted to the Business program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage and has received thousands of dollars in academic scholarships based on her vast resume of activities and some essays. She will live in the dorms and she will study hard. She will get her B.S. in Anchorage and likely go on to graduate school somewhere out of state. Destini will succeed at all she does, because that’s who she is.
Billy is seventeen and finishing up his junior year in home school. He will take his GED in a few weeks. He has applied to the Welding Technology course at University of Alaska, Kenai because he excels at “hands-on” work. He is worried about the one English and Speech class he’ll have to pass. He will live in a small cabin he’ll build on our property and he will study hard. He will get his welding certification in two years and will likely go work on the North Slope oilfields welding pipeline. Billy will succeed at all he does, because that’s who he is.
Unfortunately, one will be looked up to…and the other looked down upon. One will get applause and the other a shake of the head.
What, I wonder, is the yardstick with which we measure success and who has that right? Because if a high school diploma is the only right way to go, I’m screwed. And because I come from a long line of ‘losers”, so is my husband. And my dad. And apparently, my son.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of Destini and her choice. She is remarkable. And I’m proud of getting my degree after all I went through. My degree was the salvation of my self-worth. But in a world as competitive as the one into which we are sending our kids, they had better be armed with more than just a diploma if they expect to make it out there.
They had better be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, because it takes grit to make it and a strong work ethic to stand out in a crowd of unemployed.
Our decision to allow Billy to get his GED has taken a lot of heat from our community, especially those who love to watch him play basketball. He was the fourth leading scorer in the state of Alaska last year and in his senior year he could have ‘owned’ the court. Nobody loves to watch Billy play ball more than I. Nobody. But what I love even more is watching him turn into the man I wasn’t sure he would be. Because when that kid came into my house at eight years old…to be honest…I didn’t hold out much hope for him. Statistically, he should be in jail by now and so when he tells me he’s ready to start his career, ready to build his own cabin, ready to be a man…and he’s more serious and mature than I’ve ever seen him…who am I to make that choice for him? Who am I to say, “No…no…please be an immature idiot a bit longer….I don’t think you’ve done quite enough damage to yourself yet.” Heck no. I backed him up all the way…even if I do fear he’ll miss playing ball more than he knows. And I’m proud of his stance.
What I’m most shocked by is the assumption everywhere we turn, that a GED is the end of his educational path. That because he ‘quits’ high school, his potential for happiness, for success, for growth is somehow stunted.
I call bullshit on that one. Because real learnin’ comes not from a text but from time. Not from a book but from experience and not from a professor but from a profession. It’s ‘on the job’ experience that truly teaches and there is no better ‘job’ to learn from than life itself.
And though the world views Destini as the most likely to succeed, in the long run, compared to her brother, she’ll spend more time in school, end up further in loan debt, and as Destini points out, she’ll probably end up making less money.
Which again leads me back to the question…what is the yardstick with which we measure success…and who has that right?