High School Graduation: Four Students Discuss Obstacles To Success

This is a teen-written article from our friends at Youth Communication, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing.

Rafiat, 19, says that five years from now, she hopes to be “heading into my first year of getting my master’s degree.” She hasn’t always been as committed to education. After several years of cutting school, she moved to Texas, caught up, and is now finishing her final semester in Brooklyn, New York. She will graduate in June.

Matthew, 21, fell behind in school, but caught up just in time. The age limit for New York high school students is 21, and Matthew will graduate in June. He hopes to become a chef, a lawyer, or a child psychologist.

Alexis, 19, dropped out of high school when his daughter, who is now 1½, was born. He eventually re-enrolled in a transfer school and graduated in March. He plans to go into business management.

Marco, 17, wants “to do aerospace engineering and study propulsion systems” in college. If he doesn’t sound to you like someone who hates academics, you’re right. Marco’s obstacle is that he hasn’t felt challenged enough in school. Marco is graduating on time, in June, but says he wishes he’d had more opportunities to, for example, take AP classes and electives during high school.

What have been your greatest obstacles in school?

Matthew: My biggest obstacle was staying focused. The work they give me is easy, but I catch myself dozing off, looking out the window, or being on the computer and just wasting time.

Rafiat: Sometimes I’d go to school with my sneakers totally busted and my hair mussed up. I’d get teased and that would really hurt me, to where I wouldn’t want to come to school—so I wouldn’t. The more days I missed, the less I’d care. A week turns into months; months turn into a semester. I don’t know how I was getting promoted to the next grade, since I was never in school.

My mom was sick and tired of me skipping, so she shipped me off to Texas. It was a huge change in my life. Then my mom got sick, so I came back to Brooklyn and I signed up at a transfer school.

Alexis: My biggest obstacle was people. People laugh at you for studying. You do good and it’s considered bad.

Rafiat: Sometimes I would have a book in my hand and my friends would be like, “Why are you reading? What is this? What’s wrong with you?” I’d tell them, “I love to read, because it’s more interesting than staring at a flat-screen TV. Sometimes I like to imagine things.”

How much do you think your friends have influenced your commitment to education?

Rafiat: My friends were the ones who got me started ditching. In 5th or 6th grade they were like, “You should come over,” and I was like, “I got school,” and they were like, “Don’t worry about that; you know you don’t gotta go.” It became like an addiction.

Now, of those five or six friends, I only hang out with two of them. Those two both have kids, and now they encourage me to go to school because they’ve seen the difference not having an education makes since they’ve had kids. They can’t get a job; they have to depend on men; they can’t provide for themselves; they have to hustle. I’m the only one who doesn’t have kids, so they’re like, “We love you. Please go to school because you’re the last hope for all of us.”

Alexis: A lot of my friends dropped out, but even so they’re like, “Nah, nah, you going to school, though.” I used to get dressed to go out to parties with them and they’d say: “Where you going?” They would ditch me, basically because they didn’t want me to go party and to drop out.

When you were in elementary school, do you remember liking school, hating it, or feeling indifferent?

Alexis: I used to actually like school, but everyone around me hated it. My brother: “I hate going to school.” My sister: “I hate going to school.” Even my mom. Eventually, I’m like, you know what? I don’t want to be the only outcast. So I’d say, “I don’t like school, either!” Eventually, if you say something often enough, you believe it. That’s why it’s important to have a positive mindset.

Rafiat: I’d hate going to school because I had to deal with students who wanted to mess with me and I’d have to fight them to show them that I could defend myself. And I’d hate coming home because my aunt was right there, and if I didn’t do my writing or my math homework right, I’d get beat and sent to the bathroom to think about what I’d done wrong.

How has your family influenced your feelings about education?

Alexis: They’re supportive, as long as it doesn’t take nothing out of their pockets or affect them in any way.

When I was in 9th grade, I started getting into a lot of problems that almost cost my life. I’d ask my uncles if I could go stay with them in different states, and they’d say, “Oh, I got my own problems.” Yet, you’re calling me and telling me you love me? I’m telling you that people are shooting at me!

You encourage someone by showing them that you’ll be there. My big brother was my father figure and if I really needed something, he was the only person who would take time out of his life and give it to me.

Matthew: My mother is the biggest supportive influence on my education. It surprised me when I learned two years ago that she had her GED and not a high school diploma. She told me that she had to leave high school after getting into a fight.

The whole time I was in high school, I didn’t think I’d ever finish by the age limit of 21 and I said, “Let me try to get my GED.” My mother said I was better off with a high school diploma because it looks better on a résumé. Even though the GED is supposed to be equal to it, she taught me that it’s viewed as a dropouts’ qualification. So she has been the biggest influence to keep me in school.

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