To the graduating class that can't go to college,
It's the end of May. This is the month where tons of students are graduating high school. For months now, students have been talking about what colleges they got into, where they're going to study, and what major they're taking.
But there's a small group of students who don't talk like that. They're not talking about what college they're going to because they're not going to college. It's not because they don't WANT to, it's because they can't due to financial situations, family obligations or as I like to call it, "life getting in the way." I want to talk to those people because I don't think enough people do. You need to hear what I'm going to tell you because I speak from experience. The truth is, I was you. I still am.
I grew up in South Texas, in an area called The Rio Grande Valley. When I was growing up there, it was an extremely low-income area, where families worked non-stop to be able to survive. Surviving life is different than living life. Surviving life is about sometimes making big sacrifices for the good of everyone else. When you're busy trying to survive, it's easy to forget about your dreams. Nobody ever explained college to me. I didn't really hear anything about it until my junior year of high school. Nobody told me how expensive it was or what student loans or grants were. When I decided to try and go to college, I realized it was all on me; I had to pay for everything myself. My mom used to make $150 dollars a week cooking at a restaurant. We could barely survive and here I was, this kid with a desire to learn and no way of pulling it off. I had to do all the paperwork to get scholarships, grants, loans and it still wasn't enough for me to pay for school.
Aside from the financial restraints, the bigger reason I couldn't graduate from college was because I had to help my family out. I tried to go but had to quit a couple times for personal reasons. The first time was to help take care of my sister's kids so that she could go to work, and the second time was because my mother got sick. After the second time, I never went back. I didn't want to drop out of college, because I loved learning. I wanted to graduate but I couldn't. Again, "life got in the way." I remember the day I left college and realized I wasn't going back. It felt so final. I remember the sadness that came over me because I felt like I was getting something so special taken from me. I remember thinking, "This is it. I'm done."
But it wasn't "it." I wasn't done because my desire to learn still lived within me. Now, I don't want to sound like your grandmother, but back in my day I didn't have the Internet. If I wanted to learn something, my brother would drop me off at the public library and I'd research it. The first time I got introduced to the Internet was when I was eighteen. It had been around for a couple of years but I had never heard of it. It's funny how sometimes the lack of money makes you unaware of things that exist around you. When I first discovered the Internet, I thought, "The Internet is amazing! It's like an encyclopedia that is never outdated (FYI, an encyclopedia is like the book version of the internet that people used back in the day)!" When I dropped out of school the first time, I was taking care of my sister's kids during the day and she had the Internet. I started using it to look up things that my friends still in college were learning, so that I could keep learning along them. I'd go online and try to find out as much as I could to keep up.
The truth is, for me there was no other option. There was something in me that loved this thing more than anything else. I couldn't shut it up. It was bigger than me. I used to tell my mom, "I know you don't understand what I'm doing but trust me, if it works out, life is going to change for all of us." She would laugh.
Writing that line was very painful for me because my mom passed away before ANYTHING started panning out for me. I started crying the moment I wrote that line because it still hurts to think about it. But that's why I write it. Because what I'm about to tell you is VERY important.
I don't know if anyone has ever told you this so I'm going to: You matter. Your dreams matter. Don't let anyone tell you they don't. If you can't go to college right after high school, that doesn't mean you can't keep learning. It doesn't mean that you hang up your dreams next to your coat. It just means that you have to make your own path.
I think of it like this: There's that old saying, "where there's a will, there's a way." I'm a believer in it but I think the problem I have is that I think there are a couple words missing from it. I think a more appropriate saying is: Where there's a will, eventually there's a way. It's just that sometimes, you have to wait.
I'm going to be honest. I spent years feeling inferior to people who had the luxury of going to college and graduating. I thought they were better than me. I felt as if they were living their lives ten steps ahead of me. I used to get depressed because I kept thinking that it was impossible for me to compete against people who had a "higher education" because I felt they knew so much more than me.
I think the reason behind that is that no one ever told me what I had to figure out myself. Just because you have to make your own path, doesn't mean you won't end up where you want to be.
I hope you understand what I'm saying. I'm not saying that if you want to be a doctor, you don't have to go to medical school. What I'm saying is that if there's something you REALLY want to do, you shouldn't let anything stop you from doing it. One of the things I say constantly is that dreams don't have expiration dates. Sometimes they take longer to happen, but if you put in the work, it will happen.
I'm writing this because no one told me any of this when I was growing up. I had to figure it out on my own. When college became a luxury I couldn't afford, I figured out my own way to keep learning, and about fifteen years after I had to drop out of college, I got the chance to have my own TV show. When I went through the process of creating the show, I realized that all the reading, the studying I did on my own gave me knowledge that helped me immensely. I knew the history of TV from reading about it. I learned Final Draft by Googling it. I learned about theater from reading numerous plays that no one asked me to read. I read them because I loved them.
I had no idea that the knowledge I was getting from the studying I was doing on my own could be beneficial, but now that I know that, I want to tell others that they can do it too.
Our society bases so much of what we do, what we accomplish, on age. If you're eighteen, people assume you have to go to college, and I hate thinking like that because what does that say to the people who CAN'T? What happens to the people who have to move away to get a job moving furniture so they can send money back home to help the family (my brother)? Do we just assume that they're done learning?
Have you ever heard about iTunes U? It's a part of iTunes where you can go and see courses on pretty much everything you want to learn more about. I have a brother who watches courses on science all the time on iTunes U, and it's free. There are lessons on YouTube to learn about pretty much everything you want to learn about. My point is, the internet doesn't have to solely be about watching videos of cute puppies (which I do).
Why am I saying this? I'm saying this because I want you to know how powerful you are. How much more powerful you can be. Do you know how amazing you are for being the person who puts their life on hold to help others? You're so amazing. You need to hear that. You need to know how incredible that is. You're an incredible person for taking on such big responsibilities at such a young age. I think about my experience with my mom. At the age when most of my friends were going out drinking and dating, I was at home making sure my mom took her pills. There was no social life. There was no formal education. I just kept thinking, "One day, I'll get my shot. One day."
I get to do a lot of great things because of the job I have, but don't be deceived -- I'm not done. My goal is to go back to college and graduate. I want to do it because it's something I've always wanted to do. The dream of an education always exists and nowhere, not in any book, does it say that I have to give up on it because I'm in my late 30s. That goes for me. That goes for you.
I write this because I know that there are people out there who feel like I felt when I knew I wasn't one of the "fortunate ones" to go to college. I just want you to know that because you might not be able to do it now, it doesn't mean that you're done. In fact, this is only the beginning. I believe in you. Because I AM you.