With the high school graduation season in full effect regionally and nationwide, I have reflected on where my life is gone since high school and how different it could’ve been if I had chosen not to complete school. It’s been 12 years, but feels like just 12 seconds have passed since I graduated from Livonia in 2000. Like many students, I faced challenges during my time in high school, but unlike many students, I had some unique challenges presented to me due to my cerebral palsy. These challenges could have led me to do what many students (disabled or not) choose to do – quit school.
While it would’ve been easy to quit, this column is about how graduating high school opened up doors and avenues for me that many of my detractors never thought would be possible.
There are three things in my life that I take great pride in: my creativity, my ability to be a leader and advocate for causes I believe in, and most importantly, my ability to be a role model for my nieces and nephews. The foundation for all of these was laid as I obtained my high school education.
Throughout high school I had many people support me and willing to help me, but the one thing they all told me was we are here to help but in order to achieve your goals in life you must advocate for yourself you must be your own voice. I understood what they were saying at the time but never got the full meaning until after college. Advocating for myself in high school made me always have a plan of how I was going to get my studies or whatever needed to be done, done. Due to my disability, I fatigue faster than the average person, so my advocating sometimes took the form of requesting accommodations like assistive technology or extra time to complete assignments.
I know you’re saying, “What does this have to do with graduating high school?” If it wasn’t for the lesson I learned at Livonia about self-advocating, I would not have been able to graduate high school or have gone on to earn my associate degree in communications.
After college, I, like any other graduate, went looking for a job. Unlike most college and high school graduates, I did not work a job while in school because I felt a top priority should be focusing on obtaining a good education. This proved problematic when looking for a job after completing my education because companies don’t hire you if you don’t have a work history. That meant that I had to again get out and self-advocate. While I may not have had the most depth in my work history, one thing I’ve been able to do when given the chance is make people believe in me.
An opportunity came along when I was given a shot to interview for a production assistant job at WCMF 96.5 in Rochester. I ended up landing the job, and while it didn’t work out to be the lifelong career I had originally hoped for, did show me I had a passion for creating things – whether it was with audio production and editing at WCMF or writing here at the Sun.
I believe I’m not meant to work a regular nine to five job. There is just not enough of a creative outlet working nine to five. I see myself as an advocate for not only myself but potentially for others with disabilities worldwide. Sometimes we’re told we have to accept there are things we just won’t be able to do, but as I have said before, there are no limitations on us other than the ones who put on ourselves.
That brings me to the last way that graduating high school has benefited me greatly. I have many nieces and nephews who are graduating this year, have already graduated or will be in a few years. I’ve received phone calls or had conversations with my older nieces and nephews in which the importance of high school education comes up. My first point to them, although they don’t always understand it at the time, is having that little piece of paper will open doors to your dreams, but not having it will always keep some doors shut and some dreams out of reach.
If my story isn’t enough to encourage any student who may be thinking about dropping out to stay in high school, maybe some of these staggering statistics will.
According to an article from the National Dropout Prevention Center, high school dropouts are four times as likely to be unemployed as those who have completed four or more years of college, and graduating from high school will determine how well you live for the next 50 years of your life. High school graduates earn $143 more per week than high school dropouts do, and college graduates earn $479 more per week than high school dropouts do, according to the same article. Not to mention 82 percent of U.S. prisoners are high school dropouts, according to National Dropout Prevention Center statistics.
While, I may have faced challenges obtaining my diploma, I can almost guarantee you that should any of our region’s youths choose not to complete high school, they will face far greater challenges than I overcame throughout the rest of their lives.
The statistics prove it, so stay in school.