College Educated Guess : to go or not to go

It was this last summer on a train between Chicago and DC that I met two young ladies (sisters) around the age of 15 and 17. They were coming back from a music fest in Chicago and I was beginning a month long adventure on a train. We got into everything young women could get into and as we rolled into their home town hours later a bond was formed. We have kept in touch.

The 17 year old sister has turned 18 and is in a place that many of us find ourselves. Overwhelmed by the choices set in front of us. I felt so honored that she reached out to me. She is in flux about college, to go or not to go. Well, I will let you see her prompts and my responses below.

I am in black (as always) and she is in Mauve/Pink-ish color :

So I have a lot of opinions on this matter. All of said opinions stem from trial and error, following thy heart and learning to not regret. Know that whatever you do decide in this journey its not the end all, but a bump in a long road of more choices you will have to make. It’s hard to explain, but the choice you make now isn’t as important as the healthy practice you get into when making these decisions throughout your life.

School is not SO important. It is there and it is an option, but you are not ruining your life if you do or don’t go. You are ruining your life if you don’t follow your heart or if you lead a life from fear. 😉

With that put out there let me address your concerns…

I hope you don’t mind this, but I was reading your blog the other day and I felt as if maybe you’ve figured out what I’m kind of going through. I’m just super stuck and want to ask someone I know is open minded. I’m having trouble deciding on if I should or shouldn’t go to college.

My blog is out there for this exact situation, besides it being a place to share my voice. Feel free to dig into the content. Also try and find as many as blogs as you can that hit your heart so you can find other voices that resonate within you and inspire you. There are so many out there. Hell, if you start a blog right now about these issues you are facing… you could someday reach other 18 year old women facing this same sitch. If you do it well and regularly you could make a living off of it. I think that is how ROOKIE got started.

Today was a really hard day of not feeling myself and having an overwhelming need of physical compassion (My stepmom–held me for over an hour).

I am happy that you have someone to hold you. Treasure it. It is depressing but I remember when I was a teenager and my Grandmother who raised me stop saying “I love you” and stopped hugging me. Unfortunately I found solace by sleeping with lots of people, which inevitably was not what I really needed. Anyway. You are on the right path if you know that you need something and you find a healthy way to fill said need. Not feeling like yourself is going to continue to happen throughout your life. It helps me to know that I will spend the rest of my life figuring out who I am. I look forward to the change and bare with the ups and downs of not always feeling “real” or “solid” or like “myself”. Just take that time to listen to yourself. And/or make art 🙂

I met my mom today for lunch and we started talking about my college options. I could go full time, part time, or not go (until I’m ready or never). I feel like I’m having a severe internal struggle trying to figure all of this out.

I continue to struggle with this. For me, I tried going when I was 18. I was SUPER depressed my last year of of high school and wanted to go to art school but was so afraid of rejection that I didn’t apply. I ended up going to Cal Poly Pomona for business cause they accepted me on the spot and I didn’t have to chance that rejection. I also thought it was safe to learn business since I was an artist. Now, at this time there was never the thought of just not going to college. However, I so desperately wanted to not be in school that I ended up dropping out. My grandparents would have paid for it but it came at a VERY large price. I wasn’t allowed to go out on “school nights”, they had to know where I was at all times, and I had to live at home. I was a depressed, free-spirited, artist and 18 years old. I moved out. The next term I tried Pasadena Community College but I couldn’t afford to buy art supplies. Plus I had never been taught to live on my own. I dropped out again. I practiced “living” for the next 5 years. This gave me the time to figure me out, figure out what I wanted, and also wait until I was considered an independent and could get financial aid.

Around 23 I was dying to go to school. I applied to 5 community colleges (Glendale, CA. Hudson Vally, NY. Denver, CO. Austin, TX. and Portland, OR) Because I still had 4 months til I was actually considered an independent all of them except for Portland asked for my “parents” income info. So… I moved to Portland because they gave me the money to do so. Mind you, one month before starting school I spent all the money I had saved to move on drugs and tried to kill myself with a razor blade, twice. To say the least moving and going to school was a lot bigger than just “going to college”. I had something to prove to myself. But most importantly, when I started, the decision (and debt) was mine. I was 23 years old with a 4.0 gpa and I never felt better.

Another thing to note is the 5 years I spent “living” gave me perspective. I was able to know that I liked Community Development and Social Justice. So I got all my pre-recs out of the way while I changed my mind about 3 times. Upon deciding that I never wanted to take math again I hopped off that path and studied Multimedia and Video Production. This resulted in being one class shy of a Associates in Multimedia. However, I did receive a Certificate in Video Production. Lets check in here though. I learned how to be in school with wasted classes like 121 Writing and 200 level Philosophy classes. They boosted my self-etseem and I learned some stuff that doesn’t really need to be known. Where I learned the most though was my hands on Production/Editing classes. I was learning a trade and just as important meeting people in those classes that I would later be getting jobs with. I wouldn’t change what I did, but I would say that learning a TRADE was waaaaay more useful than any other college path I went down. It’s not over though…

I got a ton of jobs not because I had the certificate, but because I had a strong work ethic, knew my way around a production set and had common sense from all that “living” I did. I was able to get a job teaching because I had been a nanny and was a “working video production professional”. I got paid $42/hr with only a certificate. I got the job because I was having a drink at a bar with someone (who I just met) and they were leaving the teaching position and after two beers she recommended me to her boss… WTF. Point being my education is not solely responsible for getting me to these places. After working one summer in production I realized it wasn’t the work I was meant to do. So after 3 years at Community College and a “one year certificate” to show from it, I transferred to Portland State University to continue figuring out what I wanted to do.

At this point I had know idea what I wanted and I was in another depression. All I knew is that I could benefit from some Women Studies Pedagogy (study of teaching) courses. I did not take any of my prerequisites towards a major, I just took classes that made me a better person. For me that was a lot of Women’s Studies courses. I decided I wanted to go back to my roots somewhere into my 4th year of school and changed my mind again.

I took a year off to move to Boston and travel. I applied to Massachusetts College of Art and Design because it felt right, has all the facilities I need, is state funded, they offered me a half ride scholarship and I may get a tuition waiver for being Native American. I spent my whole year off convincing myself how moot it is to get a degree, but at the the end of the day Why Not? Especially if I have it for free and there really isn’t anything else pulling me at this moment. Plus, it is a stepping stone that I am placing on the path to a very undisclosed future. I am not “losing” too much by going to school. I am actually leaving myself open to getting a Masters, learning a shit ton of trades and most important it is putting me in a place to MEET PEOPLE!

BUT. It took me 10 years to get to this place. I am 29. I was in school between 2009-2014. That’s 5 ridiculous years. Now I am about to spend another 2 years getting a degree that means nothing because Why Not?. Someday I might even get another degree, who knows. To some people college has to be this consolidated 4 years from 18-22 that leads you to a job that leads you to a house to family … blah blah blah. But, it doesn’t have to be.

One day I was 17 not really making any life decisions for myself. Then, I turned 18 and everything was thrown at my face. It kind of scares me that thinking of not going to school (even for the moment) is going through my head because I know it would scare dad.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the feelings of parents that don’t let their children discover their own path in the time that they need to (nothing personal against your father). College is not going anywhere, now his check book might. I think I remember you saying that your father would pay for your college. You should find out if there is a time line on that offer. I (only) have college debt, it is about $50,000 right now… but that’s a wild guess. I’m not too worried about it because everyone has college debt and the stigma just is not what it used to be. Although, with what I know now I would say that I would have been fine without college, but that is my college educated guess. 😉 see what I did there.

More to the point of scaring your dad… it is okay to scare the ones that love you. You are not always going to want to take risks. I can’t believe how many risks I have turned down lately and I think it is just because I am older. 😦 Young you says FUCK IT. Older you says Aww shit, I remember that time I said “FUCK IT” and I spent a night in jail maybe I won’t take that risk this time. My mother helped me through that situation (by not letting me take a plea bargain) and I have a feeling your father would be there for you too if you fell down on your path or took a risk that ended up “bad”.

I have absolutely no idea what it is exactly that I want to do. I know that I don’t want to be a waitress for the rest of my life making $20,000 a year, if that. I have this idea of sparkle and adventure and freedom that I later want to share with others.

You would be very surprised on how much a waitress can make. My friend was a server at a bistro in Portland for 6 years and she made between 100-300 dollars a day. That afforded her to move when she felt like it and travel when she could get days off… funny enough she moved to Austin at the age of 36 to go back to school. She works as a waitress in Austin and that affords her tuition, a studio and the means to travel back to Portland to hang out.

There was a myth and stigma that I grew up with that was service industry people aren’t only doing it because they have to because they are uneducated, that they are lower class and it was used to scare girls like us. It is just not true.

My mother is an example, she works as a bartender in a resort town that only runs from May to September after the season is over she spends the winter in her Mexico home. She put herself through nursing school at 19 (as a single parent) but got bored with the job after a few years in. 20-ish years later she went to school for welding. She welded for a bit and then went back to bartending. One of my best friends decided around 27 that she wanted to get a BFA in painting (this was after she rode her bicycle around the country), she worked her way through a very expensive art school as a waitress, she got her degree and she is still a waitress. I called her while I was in Europe and on a whim she decided to meet us in Paris for a week because she happened to have $7,000 in savings she was willing to pinch into. She met up with me and my other friend who went to school for cooking (a trade) and is now a chef.

All these women travel, make art, work in the service industry and did not go to school when they were told to, but when they wanted to. I have 2 other sisters and a shit ton of women friends that have lived outside the confines of the educational system. I live off less than $20,000 a year and I am very happy and as you know, I travel a lot.

Wanting to travel has always been something that I’ve felt an inner pull towards. Being able to take care of myself (health-wise, fun-wise, and everything in between) is definitely something I know is what will help me feel safe and comfortable. Being able to do those things I know I will need a college degree of some sort to acquire a job that will pay for all of those expenses.

As you can see from stated above… You don’t NEED to get a degree, you just need to WANT to get a degree. If you are not a consumer whore buying everything you see and live within your means and have a job that pays the bills (and you don’t get credit cards and rack up debt) with some sense to save you can go anywhere in the world. As far as taking care of yourself, I would study some bell hooks, look into the simple living movement, and follow your heart. You don’t need a whole lot to live a very full life. I have heard from my mother and the grandparents that raised me that without money you are not rewarded the privilege to do whatever you want. But I am, when I need more money I work more, when I want to travel I save up, when I don’t have a lot of money I live simpler. Also, lots of money can be a difficult path to live on. It will take a long time to figure out just what that balance of money and lifestyle and self-preservation is for you. But as my mother told me, thats what your 20’s are for.

Dad and Stepmom don’t know any of this. I don’t want to add to their stresses.

You are valid in how difficult this time is for you. bell hooks would say that “love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust”. If you do this for yourself and bring that into the relationship with your community and ask for it in return you may find a way to break through some stresses. Don’t let the stress of others limit how important this decisions is to you.

All I know is that I have an exploring, creative brain and photography, popular culture, and the struggles of teenage girls (because I am one and have been one for a while) interest me. I just don’t think, nor have I found, a degree/job that covers all of it.

This is my favorite part. There is no one path. A four year liberal college can be grueling and boring for creatives like us. My college degree: Certificate in Video Production and Associates in Multimedia with having studied 2 years of Women’s Studies and Pedagogy and now I am getting a degree in Interrelated Media. However… My best education was when I took photography and printmaking classes in my community. The most fruitful education has been non-paid positions. My list consists of a letterpress apprenticeship (2 yrs), Damien Center for people living with HIV/AIDS making rice crispy treats and talking to folks, I was a volunteer at the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland as a Letterpress and Bookbinding Supervisor (4yrs), I was a volunteer coordinator for the Experimental Film Festival Portland (2yrs) to name a few experiences that offered me access to peers, paid jobs, skill building, resume punching and even gallery shows. I was an intern for Food Chain Films doing commercial production work, wasn’t necessarily worth my broken heart but in 3 months of being at that god-forsaken place I learned as much as I did going to school for production.

The other thing is that there are alternative schools. Independent Publishing Resource Center offers a 1 year certificate (masters degree level) in writing and publishing in Comics/Fiction/Non-Fiction/Prose. There is a school in Portland that teaches you to make just documentaries, another teaches you everything you need to know to make films. These places are more intimate and offer you direct learning with working professionals from your community. Consider being an apprentice to a wedding photographer (cause they make bank) or find an artist you like and ask them to be your mentor. This is huge because it isn’t necessarily the degree that gets you a job but the people you meet along the way that get you the job.

The commitment time frames are lower in these as well. So if you change your mind it is not a big loss of time. The cost is lower and you probably won’t go into debt.

If you are going to go to school get a trade skill in something. I can work on set, I can edit, I have the skills to navigate social oppression and create loving community, these are just a few of the “trades” I have acquired by my alternative education. TONS of community colleges offer short term (1-2 year) programs in anything you could want to learn. You don’t need one degree, but you do need to learn everything your heart desires and that might not be wrapped in some easy title.

GO ANYWHERE YOUR HEART DESIRES. I moved to Portland and was able to do it because my financial aid money from school. School makes it way easier to meet people, navigate a new city and even keep you centered in a time of transition. School is the best excuse to pack your bags and move across the country. I am not saying you have to do that now, but when you are ready it makes it easier.

This is so big and it’s starting to take its toll on me and pulling me down.

It feels big, and it is, but this is the beginning of the rest of your life (as cheesy as it sounds). Lets say you live to be 90 years old. You have 70 more years of this “living” you have to do. You aren’t going to make a wrong decision right now. You can not fail. So let us go back to what I was saying previously : “the choice you make now isn’t as important as the healthy practice you get into when making these decisions throughout your life.” You are learning to live right now, be forgiving. You do not have to know the answers, only find ways to enjoy the outcome. You got this. It just might not feel like it right now.

Wish I was there to hug you.



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