At the age of 41 I still get asked a couple of times a month where I attended college. It happened just last night. “I didn’t,” I quietly answer and then shout, “ICE CREAM TRUCK,” and start whistling the catchy ice cream truck ditty to distract and avoid the shocked looks, the awkwardness that comes from my embarrassment and from them wishing they could go back 30 seconds and not ask the question.
To make myself feel better my internal dialogue reminds me of what I went through in high school. “College of Hard Knocks,” that’s what I want to answer. But? That sounds like I am trying too hard. It begs the question, Who am I convincing? Them or me. It seems as if I am apologizing, which I guess I sort of am. There is shame for me in not having attended college.
Imagine having to tell people you dropped out of high school. Now that? Would be awful and horrifyingly shameful. And? I have to tell people that too. I dropped out of high school.
It’s a little something most people don’t know about me and until now I wanted to keep it that way. An event I attended two weeks ago sponsored by P&G, supporting Communities in Schools with the help of Matthew McConaughey’s foundation, Just Keep Livin’, has changed my mind on keeping quiet.
Every 26 seconds in the United States a teenager drops out of high school.
By the time you finish this post, five teens will have dropped out. If you are a slow reader, seven.
If you want to skip my life story you can just scroll down to the part at the bottom where I tell you how, with the help of P&G, you can prevent teens from dropping out of high school.
Growing up my parents were addicts. My father’s drug of choice alcohol. My mother’s? Too many to count. My home life was anything but stable. My parents divorced when I was very young and went on to remarry. My dad’s new wife and I never could make it work. As time went on our relationship grew more tumultuous culminating in a knock down drag out fight that had us rolling across the floor like a couple of teenage boys and left bleeding scratch marks from her nails across my face.
Fed up with the drunken days and nights and a stepmother whose every glance in my direction was dripping with disdain and hatred, I decided to move in with my mother and her third husband.
Family success would not be found in that house either. My stepfather had just gotten out of prison (armed robbery of a bank in which my mother drove the getaway car). Clearly he wasn’t a “live by the rules” kind of guy. Shortly after I moved in with them, frustrated by a job that didn’t pay much, he began selling drugs. Apparently he was quite good at it because it quickly became a profitable business and we went from having a Snickers bar to get us through an entire days worth of meals to having anything we wanted. Custom BMWs, Cadillacs and a beautiful new condo, to name a few.
Things changed quickly. My mother already an addict, now had more access to drugs. Not ideal for someone who couldn’t keep her nose clean. People were coming and going all hours of the day. I would awake to find men in my room at night. My mother was no help as she was passed out at that hour from whatever she had taken to bring herself down from the cocaine she inhaled all day.
I spent as much time as possible staying at friend’s homes. I am incredibly grateful to those wonderful families who opened their doors to me. They sensed something was terribly wrong in my home life, but never asked. They only encouraged and offered a warm place to stay, home cooked meals, a hug and smile that I desperately craved.
During my junior year in high school it all came crashing down. My mother and stepfather were arrested for the biggest drug bust in our state’s history. In an instant my horrible family life was exposed on every news station and on the front page of every local newspaper. I forced myself to go to school the very next day and it was exactly as you would imagine. I walked into a room of chatter that suddenly went silent. People stared. Some kids were nice enough to ignore what was happening in my life and talk about the meaningless, others were just mean. I will never forget the kid who walked up to me while I was talking with a group of people and said, “You deserve this.”
I tried going back to my dad’s home but just couldn’t make it work. So, as a senior in high school I dropped out and got a full time job and an apartment. On my last day, as I packed up my locker, my high school counselor approached me and begged me to go to night school to get my degree. “Don’t give up, you can do this,” he said. It took me a couple of weeks and a lot of prodding and pushing from others, but I enrolled in night school and was able to work full time during the day, pay the rent for my apartment and graduate from high school within six months. I was one of the lucky ones. I didn’t give up.
Teens that drop out of high school typically have one thing in common, they have no one to believe in them. No one to suggest they don’t give up. No one to push them to dream or want.
People ask me often what made the difference. Why was I able to climb out of my childhood strong and determined? It’s always the same answer. No matter how bad it got for me, on those days when giving up seemed not just logical but right, there was always someone there to smile, to believe, to push. Someone to say, “I believe you can. I know you can.”
The event I attended two weeks ago was in support of Communities in Schools. Their organization is…”a nationwide network of passionate professionals working in public schools to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.”
Want to help teens stay in school? Here’s how you can.
Every time you buy $25 worth of participating P&G brands, you’ll get a $5 rebate by mail and P&G will donate $5 to Communities in Schools. Check your local papers for the P&G brandSAVER®. For every coupon redeemed by participating brands, P&G will also donate $.02 to Communities in Schools.
To learn which P&G brands are participating and to learn more about School the Nation go to the Get, Give and Save website.
While the event was a giant pile of inspired mashed potatoes, the gravy was this:
Don’t miss out on your chance to make a difference with P&G.
Also? Never forget to tell your teens or those who happen to sleep on your sofa, “I believe in you.”
Thank you to the fabulous SheSpeaks for getting me safely to and from the event.
A very special thank you to one of my dearest friends @rockonmommies for making sure I was included in such an inspiring and meaningful event.