School’s Out

graduation

This time last year, I graduated with my Master’s degree.

After twenty years of school rebellion and drudgery, I was done. Done, done, and done. In my mind, school always had a Before and an After. The Before consisted of the first 10 years of school. School was fantastic. Because I didn’t care about school. School was about seeing friends, breaking rules, and being an all-around hooligan. I was every teachers’ nightmare. My friends and I rebelled on the regular. Years were dotted with writing lines, detention slips, suspensions, and, honestly, an obscene amount of fun.

But somewhere between 8th and 9th grade, things changed. School changed. I learned about the GPA. Incorrectly assuming that P stood for Permanent, and that my failures would be forever documented and shared, I paused. I thought of my middle school friends, drinking and doing drugs at the tender age of 11. I thought of my elementary friends, whom I’d roam around and lie and steal with. I thought of my parents, who were dismayed and horrified, who feared I was a lost cause.

So I reconsidered my approach. Freshman year, I studied for the first Biology test. Although I couldn’t pay attention to the teacher, I read the textbook from start to finish. I still remember getting the test back. And that it’d been the highest score in our grade.

For the next few years, I continued to grind for numbers. Scores. Grades. Rank. And thus: the After. In retrospect, school was marked by surface achievements and underlying bitterness. In high school, I graduated Valedictorian. In undergraduate, I attended an Ivy League, my dream school. In graduate school, I interned at NASA.

But achievements were surface level. Early on, I quickly grew to dislike school. I disliked the stifling structure. The drab monotony. The one-size-fits-all approach. The emphasis on test scores that relied on 60% knowledge and 40% game-like technique. I valued education, but I despised its venue. I didn’t understand how shoving a bunch of kids into a drab, grey room for 8 hours on end – punished for leaving the room unattended, not tucking in a shirt, speaking out of line – was helpful at all. It was industrial, boring and disgusting.

I still got good grades, though. Straight A’s. My father, bless his heart, taught me every mathematical concept I know, weathering my intense impatience and teary-eyed reactions. (I don’t get it!) Outside of class, I – ironically – enjoyed imitating class. I taught my friends Biology, Chemistry, Physics. I tutored with friends. Tutored other kids.

I was bitter, though. And angry. At school, but other things, too. That others did not understand my anger made me angrier. When I wrote my Valedictorian speech – the night before- I kept it light. I was smiling. Dishonest. I stood on stage, lights beaming and cracking jokes. I cracked inside jokes that peers and their parents would understand, when all I really wanted to say was, “fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool, fuck you.”

The bitterness continued throughout undergraduate, where I was fortunate to attend my dream school. An Ivy League! But a few months in, it dawned on me. All of us had worked so hard in high school just to work even harder in college. Most people were massively depressed, highly anxious, and fixated on this elusive thing called a Job. Prestigious, fancy, something to float in others’ faces. While I certainly understood the need for employment, this hyper-focus on Private Equity Investment Programming Hedge Fund C++ Bankist was excessive, unbearable, and bizarre. I couldn’t even enjoy a simple Thai dinner without someone hounding me about the intern search. I never had the guts to pause, put my fork down, and ask “what’s it to ya?”

Graduate school was, in many ways, different. Smaller cohort. Smaller professors. Specialized, specific field. I wasn’t interested in grades or GPA. I was interested in the paper and my friends. I meshed with a group of girls who had their nails done; drank White Claw; joined sororities. I felt like the odd one out. My only experience with a sorority had been attending one rush event, pretending to go to the bathroom, and never returning. Despite feeling off, I relished in our sassy iMessage threads, meme-friendly snaps, and grand gossip. We’d get drinks on Wednesdays after class. We’d talk mad shit. We’d complain and commiserate. Overnight, COVID put our group gatherings to a halt, as well as in-person classes. I never attended graduation. Our jokes, and snap group, however, lived on.

Of all the years I spent in school, I would have to say that the very start and very end were the best. I think it was because, during those years, school was never about school. It was about hanging out with friends and doing hood rat shit. At the same time, if I’d spent all 20 years hanging out with friends and doing hood rat shit, I might not have graduated, or gone to the school I did, or finished the program I had. I don’t know if I’d be working a comfortable, remote job, or if I would have secured the pleasant positions I did.

Working hard in school was a mixed bag. Looking back, it’s hard to say that it wasn’t worth it, but sometimes it’s hard to say that it was. In the end, it doesn’t matter, because it is the past. I am incredibly fortunate to have had the teachers and educational opportunities I had. Most people do not have the means to go to undergraduate or graduate school, but I did. This was in large part due of my parents, who, despite watching me rebel and flounder, were supportive and patient and kind. Now, when I reflect on my education, I think of them the most, feeling indebted but grateful.

Le beau still jokes that one day, I’ll go back to get a higher degree, so I can teach, but I wave him off. For now, at least, school’s out.


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