Around November of 2014, my junior year, both of my parents lost their jobs. They knew this was coming for months and my dad had already been searching for new opportunities well before it was time to leave New York, but nothing prevailed. I had to transition into taking care of myself entirely. I was in the dorms at this point, so the transition was gradual (I could rely on commons for food), but it was extremely hard on me. This was even further complicated by the sudden murder of my birth mother in January 2015. While I didn’t grow up with her, my parents made it a priority to visit her and my half siblings regularly. This relationship is/was so extremely important to me. The look of pure joy, happiness, and love on her face whenever she got to see me makes me feel like a million dollars.
By the time May rolled around, I saw my academic suspension as a very good thing and felt that after a much-needed break, I would be ready to return to school and power through the requirements for graduation. I moved into Dojo in June, took photos with REACH over the summer months and started working at BTO in August. I spent the semester working full-time and felt confident in my plan to return this January and get sh*t done.
No matter how many different ways I tried to spin it, my struggle to focus reached a new intensity and I still couldn’t find the time in the day for everything on my plate. When I looked around my classes, I felt alone. I had a billion other things on my mind. No matter my intentions, my brain ran wild, creating a sort of cycle of helplessness and self-hate. On one hand I felt like all of this was just unfair and impossible, but on the other I thought there was no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do this.
I met with my advisor and a counselor at midterms and began to sort through these feelings. It helped immensely to hear them tell me that it was okay that I couldn’t do it. It’s okay not to graduate! A lot of people do it. A lot of people return to school later in life. If I were to graduate, I’d have a full year left, not just a semester and summer classes. I had to get out now before I dig my academic and emotional hole any deeper. I was offered a medical withdrawal.
It flipped a switch in my head when I decided I wanted out NOW. I had wanted to leave for a while (since I decided I no longer wanted to pursue grad school and academia, sophomore or junior year), but graduation and my degree were important to me. Now, however, when I look around, I see many other people who feel similarly about the true value of college.
I immediately felt like a huge weight had been lifted. I feel like I can do anything in the world. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by graphic designers that they haven’t been asked a single time whether or not they even went to college at all. I’m an impatient person. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was wasting my time. I don’t feel good about letting my impatience affect me in this way, but my emotions crossed a fine line between a simple dissatisfaction with my responsibilities and extreme unhappiness with the entire situation. I’ve been told it takes a special kind of person to handle full time school and a full time job. I am not that person.
I’m continuing full time work at BTO and pursuing freelance graphic design and photography under the name Gray Matters. I will also be moving to Harmony Farm at the end of May to farm-sit for the owners of BTO, who also happen to be the best bosses anyone could ask for.
Four years ago I became friends with many of the same people I’m still friends with today, both at Roanoke College and otherwise. I’m extremely impressed with what all of us have achieved and learned. College didn’t teach us the most important things! What we learned from each other probably matters the most. I can’t wait to see what we learn next.