Late last month, Daniel Drake graduated from Pacific Lutheran University. It was marked by a commencement ceremony. Six years ago, he dropped out of school due to low grades. From his current cap-and-gowned vantage point, he believes that moment deserved a ceremony too.
As Drake argued in a column in The Mooring Mast, headlined “A Shout-Out to Dropouts,” “[W]hile the graduates are treated as people, the rest of us are treated as statistics. Every year, analysts write about why some of us failed to complete all four years of our degree. Nobody writes about all the work we did to make it through one year, or two, or three. If we celebrate the hard work of those who graduate, why not celebrate that of those who don’t?”
The type of ceremony Drake envisions is not aimed at “idolizing dropouts,” but acknowledging that the traditional college path is becoming less frequented.
“Most parents expect college to be a four-year financial commitment,” a recent Reuters report confirmed, “yet it has become so common for undergraduates to stretch out their college years that only about a third of students who set out to graduate in four years actually do so.” The number of students leaving school prior to graduation has actually risen so dramatically in recent years that the U.S. now boasts the highest college dropout rate in the industrialized world.
According to Drake, honoring student dropouts for work completed, regardless of degree earned, also sends a positive message about the nature of learning itself.
As he explains in his column, speaking directly to students, “The world doesn’t end if you don’t get it right the first time. If you’ve just realized you might not be graduating this year as planned, don’t feel ashamed about the things you weren’t able to do. Instead, congratulate yourself for all the things you’ve accomplished.”
In the Q&A below, Drake discusses his motivations for writing the column and his experiences as a student who followed a nontraditional path.
Q: To be clear, why should there be a ceremony for students who drop out or do not graduate on time?
A: Right now, there is nothing for people who don’t graduate. We’re just a number. Go to the websites for all colleges and open up the brochures and look at the events calendars and everything is for people who graduate. Institutions get funding for getting people through graduation. I understand that. I would just like to see some sort of recognition for the hard work people do even if they don’t graduate. Some sort of small ceremony or some sort of goodbye letter that doesn’t have to do with, “You’re graduating now.”
What I’d like people to take away is a quote from my grandfather: “Just do your best. Nobody can ask more of you.” Colleges should take that advice. You should ask people to do their best, and support them. Don’t just ask for some sort of arbitrary number of years or a certain set of grades. I understand we need a curriculum system to function. But underneath it all, I think faculty and administrators should ask people to do their best and support them along the way. If people graduate or don’t graduate, that shouldn’t be the point. The point should be to learn as much as possible.
Q: What do you want students to know?
A: The idea that at the age of 18 you know what you want to do with the rest of your life is ridiculous. But that is what’s demanded of you right now. . . . Even before you’re done high school, you have to start looking at these brochures and figure out what you want to do with your life and what sort of career you want. You’re 18 years old! You should be thinking about what you want to do tomorrow, not the rest of your life.
Also, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get a diploma the first time around, which is based on my own experience. I know I worked really hard. I know that there isn’t going to be a ceremony for [students who drop out or fail to graduate]. There’s no place we can go and celebrate all the hard work we did. But I know those people who didn’t graduate weren’t all slackers. They did the best they could, but right now it wasn’t enough to get to graduation. But it doesn’t mean they won’t get there later.
The first time I was in college, I made it to the end of my last year, but I wasn’t done with my degree program. I still remember what it felt like. You suddenly don’t know what to do. Up until that point, working toward graduation is everything you know and if that doesn’t pan out you don’t really have a frame of reference beyond that a lot of the time. But having spent a few years out of college, working odd jobs, and going back again, I realize now it was not such a big deal. It should be fine to do things over sometimes.
Q: How is it different being a nontraditional student?
A: A professor once remarked to me, “College students with less life experience open a textbook and tend to want to absorb everything as if it’s of equal importance. Whereas someone who’s coming back to college or is an older student tends to already have a lot of experiences and already knows what they’re interested in. So they tend to go for those parts of the curriculum or books and focus on that. They already have something that they can attach the text too.”
That’s been the case for me. Instead of trying to memorize everything in the books, I have my own vantage point. The textbook brings another vantage point. And we sort of find a meeting point for that. Once you’re a little bit older, how you approach the curriculum and problem-solving is a little bit different.
Q: Why is dropping out of school almost always perceived simply as failing?
A: This perception of failure is based on the idea that you have to get it right the first time. All that happens is you do some work, learn some things, and at the moment your situation doesn’t fit into a program you needed to complete in a certain amount of time and at this point in your life. And if you don’t do that there is a mentality, “Oh, you’re a dropout.” It’s a very loaded term that seems to mean that you didn’t do your best or you sort of slacked off. It’s associated with failure.
Your time in college is part of something greater. This is your life. You learn certain things and it’s going to be to your advantage whether you graduate or not. That’s why it feels kind of silly we aren’t recognized for taking part in the learning process if for whatever reason we don’t happen to get this piece of paper right now. I emphasize right now.
Powered by Facebook Comments