Dec. 3, 2014

Today I want to celebrate one of my own. My middle child, a son, will graduate with a degree in geology in about two weeks. I like to bring him up because he did not take a traditional route through college, but one that led him to successfully complete his college requirements.

I have written about him before, but his story is worth repeating. He is smart and made good grades in high school, but struggled with focus and boredom due to his being attention deficit. Due to the fact that he had taken several IB and AP classes, by the end of his junior year, he had all he needed to graduate except for a one-semester government class. When he showed me his line-up of classes for his senior year, I got a bit worried. I have no problem with interest-specific classes, but when the entire schedule was made up of classes like photography and videography, I got a sinking feeling that he might find himself with too much time for getting into trouble—which he had already proven he was capable of doing.

It was me, not him, that suggested he finish high school early and go do something useful in the world. He was suspicious, but listened as I suggested Americorps or something similar. He countered with the idea of going out of the country to volunteer. We started looking into gap year programs, but ended up constructing one on our own through one of my husband’s work colleagues.

This middle child and his older brother—who took a semester off from college, where he was doing well—took off that January to volunteer with a small NGO in Peru. They both had some Spanish, but took an intensive language course in the country before finding their way to the small community in which they worked. It was a great experience for both of them as they had to figure out transportation and housing, as well as their work project on their own.

After their return, older brother returned to college and the younger sized up his options quickly. He knew the rules: if you are a full-time student, your college fund kicks in; if not, you’re on your own. When he insisted he would attend the local community college, all kinds of alarms went off. I knew it wasn’t what he wanted, but he didn’t want to scrounge for his own rent. His dad and I tried to talk him out of it, telling him if he wasn’t serious, he would be wasting his college fund—so, of course, that is what he did—waste his college fund. He made Cs when he was completely capable of As and took classes that didn’t go toward much when he finally did get serious about college.

Shortly into the second semester of community college, he came to me to proclaim I was right: He wasn’t ready for college. Instead he was heading to New Zealand. He saved a couple of thousand from his part-time job, and his dad and I told him to have a great time. Which he did. He worked when he needed enough money, traveled all over, met lots of people, made all his own decisions, and truly matured.

Ten months or so later, he returned broke, but happy with his adventures. He was forced to live at home for awhile due to lack of funds, and he took the first job he could get: selling high end vacuum cleaner and air filter systems. He actually was a good salesman, but hated the job. About three weeks into it, he came to us and said: “I’m ready for college.” And he was.

He started university the following fall, was a serious student, did well in his classes, loved his major of geology, and is now set to graduate in a couple of weeks—at age 25. I never doubted that he would eventually go to college, but I knew it needed to be on his own terms. That is something that many parents have a difficult time accepting, but accept it they should, as it never does any good to force a young person into college.

Education never has been a one-size fits all, and college is not the right path for every high school graduate, nor is going straight to college after high school. It can be a stop-start, much delayed, or a circular route getting there. But the student shouldn’t start until he or she is ready, willing, and able. That’s what it’s all about.

Congratulation Wes!!