What Does Success Look Like?

What does the perfect high school graduate look like? Top 10 in their class? Numerous extra curricular activities? Study abroad? Volunteer with local charities? 4.0 GPA?

That’s probably what most people have in mind of the “perfect” graduate. I was not that graduate, and that was not the end of the world for me.

I started thinking about all of this when I read Mandy Froehlich’s recently post titled I’m Not Your Ideal College Graduate. She talks about how her path to where she is as an educator was anything but the traditional path to education. This really hit home for me.

When I was 17, I left for college. To say that I was not emotionally ready for the collegiate experience at the age of 17 is a bit of an understatement. At the time, I thought I wanted to be a draftsman. Why did I want to do that? Honestly, it was the only thing in high school that got me remotely excited. After a year-and-a-half studying drafting, I realized it was the last thing I wanted to do for the next 30 years of my life.

So, I moved back home and went to community college. This was by far one of the most important points in my life. I was able to take general educations classes and get a better idea of what I wanted to do with my life. Until that point, I felt an enormous rush from ninth grade on to “figure out what you’re going to do with your life.” I remember a high school guidance counselor asking me when I was a junior in high school what I wanted to do with my life. I was 15. I had no clue.

One of those classes I took at community college was Communications 101. That one class sparked a love and passion for television production. I eventually transferred back to a four-year state school and majored in television production. That was the first time I felt like I hit my academic stride.

I left with a degree and worked at three television stations in three different states over the next six years. Some unbelievable experiences were made possible working in television: riding in a presidential motorcade, taping four NFL games from the sidelines, flying along the U.S.-Mexico border with the National Guard, etc.

I loved my time in television and feel very fortunate to have worked in the industry. Eventually, I thought there was something different waiting for me in the world. After a great deal of soul searching, I enrolled in an elementary teacher certification program. I was 30 years old at the time. I didn’t start teaching until I was almost 32. That 15-year-old sitting in the high school guidance counselor’s office would have never been able to predict that career path.

Becoming a teacher is the best thing I’ve done in my professional life. While I’m not sure I will work as a classroom teacher the rest of my career, I’m almost certain I will stay in the education field.

Reflecting on all this made me wonder why are we in such a rush to make our students and children decide what they want to do after high school? Are 16-, 17-, and 18-year-old kids really ready to make that decision? I don’t know the answer to that for every student, but I can tell you that the 17-year-old me had no clue. Thankfully I had some amazing people in my life who were willing to walk along the journey of life and career with me.

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