Many congratulations have been in order for our most recent graduating class of NAU. A lot of time, money, energy and hard work (or not) has been put into gaining a degree with the gold and blue. If you are 21 or 22 years old and made the decision to not include a college degree in your life, choosing instead to drop out or pursue a myriad of other options, I just wanted to say congratulations to you, too. Congrats to those who chose an alternative educational path, or to delay college to help sick parents, or work a trade, or raise a child, or travel, or concentrate on mental health, or literally any other thing besides the traditional four-year standard degree.
Several billionaires—including Alan Gerry, John Simplot, Bill Gates, Ellen DeGeneres and Rachael Ray—didn’t graduate from college, or even high school for some. A Forbes article published in 2006 notes that, until relatively recently, many trades such as architecture and law were taught through apprenticeships rather than higher education. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on tuition, college-skippers could invest that money to build up a nest egg by the time they reach their mid-30s while learning a specific trade.
Don't tell my father—who funded a fair amount of my college—but I think I may have been better off just working fulltime. I join a third of millennials in saying this according to a study conducted by Wells Fargo.
In an article for Business Insider, James Altucher writes, “It disturbs me when people cling to the notion of college like it’s the holiest water handed from God…. If you say, ‘Kids should not go to college,’ it’s like you breached the highest, holiest, divine hymen of American religion.”
Altucher proposed a statistical study: Take thousands of Harvard acceptees and tell half of them to toss that envelope of self-worth in the trash. A score later, take a survey to see which group has the higher income. His hypothesis is the non-attenders would be in the winning crowd due to hitting the real world earlier and getting a head start on their careers.
Me? I was the only one of my siblings to graduate. I attended five universities during my college career. Coconino Community College, The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in NYC, University of Arizona, The Evergreen State College and Global College of Long Island University (then known as Friends World College). It was a confusing clusterfuck punctuated by my early marriage to a navy man, my brother’s murder and my parents’ divorce. I probably should have taken a break, but, like some sadistic Energizer Bunny, I kept going. It had a lot to do with pride. I had a successful academic career in high school and even attended a Swiss boarding school. I figured taking a gap year or any sort of break would mean I would never finish—maybe I never would have.
I was given the opportunity to study abroad and create my own curriculum. I studied Spanish, salsa dance, globalization and sustainable agriculture in Costa Rica. I got to be a theater intern in London and NYC. I studied the poetry of Moniza Alvi and Pablo Neruda. I photographed protests, actors, families and theater groups. I made a one-woman show.
I will add that I did not drink in college. I did not smoke weed, or waste time doing any other drugs. I did, however, waste time on boyfriends and the confused depression that comes from being rejected by the top acting schools at 18.
Now I have a little one who is crying because I’m writing this article instead of spending time with him. The message I send in our family is not that you go to college after high school. It’s that some people do. It's an option that should be seriously looked into like many other options.
If you are going to drink the college Kool-Aid, at least also take the time to develop your own self outside of classes. Hopefully, your degree will help you succeed in the future, but try not to rely on it. Relying on any one thing for success will most likely get you in trouble. Be a nice person, someone others want to be and work around. Invest in your community, even if you are only here for two or four years. And save money. Save your ass off.
Someone who fought tooth and nail to graduate “on time” (in four years). And did. And regretted it. And is still paying for it. Literally.