The True Story of a College Dropout Who Graduated
We've written an insane amount of "College Dropout" posts this week, and believe me, I could do 30 more. I've already got an ode to the women of "Goldigger" written in my head, and my man G is already upset I haven't done a "Find Her" for "Spaceships".
But all good things must come to an end, and I thought it was only right to close out this week's festivities on a personal note. After all, more than the rhymes and the production and the music itself, it was the personal nature of Kanye's debut that truly made it a classic. Millions of people heard Ye lay open his own life, detail his own struggle between making his mother happy by graduating college and chasing his dreams, between his lust for money and fame and the need to do work he was passionate about, and thought, "that's me." So in that same spirit.....
I was a college dropout.
I graduated high school in 2000 and immediately set sail (figuratively) for San Diego because I wanted something completely different from the icy winters and Abercrombie & Fitch drenched streets of my native Boston. I looked at Pacific Beach and thought SDSU would be that something completely different, but I quickly realized it wasn't. In fact, it was far worse.
Yes, the weather was amazing and the girls were "every hottest girl in their high school apparently decided to come here", but San Deigo turned out to be far more conservative than I thought. It became clear that I had simply swapped out Boston frat boys wearing that aforementioned Abercrombie & Fitch for the same frat boys wearing Hurley shirts and board shorts. Same guy, different uniform. And it wasn't like school was any better. It only took a semester of "Intro to Communications 101" surrounded by people who were clearly only there because their parents paid for it before I was asking, "What the fuck am I doing here?"
So I dropped out. When you're 18 and don't have kids and a business to worry about, don't waste a minute of your life.
My mom was supportive because moms are the greatest, my dad was mad but there wasn't much he could do since he wasn't really in my life at that time, and that was that. Everyone dope who I knew in San Diego was originally from the Bay Area and San Francisco's openly insane culture seemed like the opposite of the stiffling San Diego, so I finished my last final, packed up my dorm room, gave away everything until I could fit all my shit in a giant duffel bag, hopped on an Amtrak train and headed north.
There were some months of sleeping on hostel bunk beds and couches, but eventually I found a house in Berkeley with some dope roommates, got a job working with special needs kids at Berkeley High, met my future wife and just generally loved life. I didn't regret dropping out for a second. In fact, it was so stupidly, obviously the right decision I never had even a flicker of doubt.
But after a couple years, the lack of a college degree became an increasingly large roadblock. I was good at my job, but I just wasn't going to get promoted further without at least a bachelors. And now that the quarterlife crisis that had prompted me to leave San Diego was firmly in my rearview, I was starting to really think about building a career, a life. Maybe it wasn't impossible to get that life without a degree, but it was definitely harder. And there was something I could do about it.
So I got my late registration on and went back. I would work nights bartending until 3 in the morning, wake up at 10, go to class from noon to 5, hit Taquería Cancun for some carne asada, do my homework on the Muni while going to work, bartend, and then wake up and do it all over again. Repeat, repeat, repeat for three years until I was wearing that cap and gown.
I don't want to sugarcoat things, it was hard work, but this time college was everything the first time around wasn't. My surroundings were far better, but more importantly, I was only there for myself. I was paying every dime myself to improve my life, so even when it was difficult, I had a purpose. I had some great teachers who became mentors and friends, but for the most part I was just on a mission for that paper. Show me the classes I have to take to graduate as quickly as possible and I'm taking it. What? I have to take a physical science class? Geology is Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-3? Fine, that's a fucking stalagtite and that's a stalagmite. I'll take my B-minus and it's on to the next one.
And now we get to the entire point of the story. I know there are a lot of my fellow college dropouts out there in RefinedHype Nation, or those thinking about leaving; this is for you. I've been there. In fact, I don't even like the term dropout. I didn't quit, I left a bad situation to make my life better. That's not quitting, that's putting in more work than all the kids who coasted four years on their parents' money and then graduated with no idea what to do next.
But I also want to let you know that while dropping out was one of the best decisions I ever made, so was going back. Fittingly, I heard Amiri Baraka (RIP) at a talk at SFSU say that a college degree was a "I don't bite" certificate, and it's true. A college degree says you can complete a long term task while being a reasonably functioning member of society. In other words, exactly the kind of thing that gets you a job.
Yes, it's true that I use very little of my college degree in my job now. (Hey 8th math geometry teacher who told me I'd someday use geometry in my job. You were incredibly fucking wrong.) But I wouldn't have gotten hired at the job - that got me the job - that got me this job without a college degree. That piece of paper opens doors for you, it just does.
So just know that if you're thinking about dropping out of college, I'm with you. If you have dropped out, I'm with you. (In fact, if you graduated and you're stuck at a soul-sucking job and you're thinking of quiting, I'm with you.) But I also want to let people know that if you're thinking about going back and graduating, I'm with you too.
Go get that paper my people.