I dropped out of high school when I was fifteen-years. I have always struggled with education. I’m dyslexic, so institution-based learning was challenging. I often found myself frustrated and isolated as a teenager.
I remember vividly, at 15 years old, having a discussion with my mother. I told her that I wanted to drop-out . To my surprise, she said, “Sure, but you’re going to have to work. You’re going to have to help around the house and pay room and board.” I come from a low socio-economic status upbringing, so by leaving school I was able to help my family. My parents never saw the importance of education. Both my parents had dropped out of high school—it felt as though I was destined to follow suit.
Shortly after leaving school, I found work at a local distribution warehouse. I was making relatively good money for a teenager and the support I was giving my parents was greatly appreciated. A year and a half of working full-time, I recall a moment during a lunch break that changed everything.
It was spring, and I was having my break outside, reading a magazine and eating my sandwich. Three older co-workers came outside. One of them struck up a conversation with me and said “Why aren’t you in school? Aren’t you a teenager?”
I told them I had left school awhile back. I was shocked with their collective response. All of them agreed, “good for you. I dropped out of high school too, you don’t need it!” I immediately thought to myself, I am 16 years old, and I am on the same trajectory as these three grown men; I decided I didn’t want to end up on that same path.
That evening I went home and had a tough conversation with my mother. I knew that I was helping financially, and I knew that going back to school would set us back even more, but I also knew the life I didn’t want for myself. The only way I could change things was to start advocating for myself and to overcome my fear of education.
My mother was disappointed, but she understood my dilemma. She told me she supported my decision, but I would have to do it myself. I did my own research and wanted to attend a school I knew I could get the support I needed. I found my place at a new school and sought the assistance I needed to be successful. I definitely struggled—but I kept in mind that education is a privilege, not a right.
I eventually graduated. It was a huge sense of accomplishment. I had overcome my fear and replaced it with passion for learning.
I went on to earn a Master’s Degree and had a rewarding career as a police officer. Recently I left policing to pursue teaching, feeling like I have come full circle and found my place at Sheridan College.
(Interviewed and written by Alya Somar; photo by Nolan Brinson)