As I child I was told that I was gifted. My third grade teacher never called on me, no matter how hard I waved my hands and said “I know! I know!” She would just say “It’s ok. I know that you know.”
But around age ten, my home life took a turn for the worse and I was placed in a public school in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood. I quickly stopped believing that I was gifted. I felt lost and knew that many things that I saw at school were not right. Growing up in an urban community was a huge challenge for me. Most students do not have access to good information or role models so finding a way out is usually an act of fate.
I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life, but after I graduated my family didn’t give me much of a choice and shoveled me off to university the first chance they got.
I like to think that once I got there I was ruined in the best sort of way. During my first semester, I took a class for my extended orientation course called “How to be Indispensable.” Ironically enough, it was based entirely on a book by Seth Godin and was all about why college isn’t the best move for young entrepreneurs. These ideas got my wheels turning. I began logging long hours researching education and economics, so much so that I began to fall behind in my courses, and didn’t even mind.
I found resources like Coursera and EdX that help me realize that I have the power to learn and do whatever I want! I didn’t need to take anymore fluff courses or pay an arm and a leg in student fees just to have a great education. One day I met with my student advisor and she looked at me grimly and told me that I probably should choose an easier major (rather than mechanical engineering) because my grades were not measuring up. Instead of regurgitating some half-hearted excuse about my potential or promising to do better, I decided to take a chance and just level with her.
The first thing I said was “I’ve been doing alot of research and after weighing all of my options, I just really can’t make myself care about college.” She looked at me through her deeply wrinkled brow and said the craziest thing. “Your entire future depends on this. What will your parents say? What are you going to do if you leave here?” I tried to answer her questions honestly, but I could not help but think about how wrong she was. There were so many choices and so many opportunities for me to make something great. I craved the ability to be creative and construct something that was deeply meaningful for me. Getting a degree and getting a job was not my picture of a deeply meaningful life.
Her words made me really sad. I knew that I knew better, so I decided to leave school and focus on building a project through local inner city schools providing good information to students regarding education and their choices. Above all else, I decided I would only seek to inspire them. A surprising number of students have no clue about the battle in education going on right above their heads. I knew that I hated seeing kids from my school graduate only to live in poverty or work at McDonalds, or the few that made it through college fall into debt or become underemployed. I designed my project to appeal to them and teach them so they might have hope for a better future.
Hope and love are things we take for granted too often. Some kids don’t get it and for too many kids, high school is the last stop. So after leaving school, I designed a plan that I am currently working on. Soon I am applying for the Theil Fellowship for young entrepreneurs who have decided to leave school. If I’m accepted, I will be mentored by Silicon Valley’s best leaders and innovators and receive a $100,000 grant to expand my project globally!
I had always felt kind of limited by the educational system, but now I am slowly rediscovering the gifted child in me. I am learning more than ever. I love being a self-directed learner. Teaching myself public speaking, programming, web development, marketing and whatever else I need to fuel my dreams.
I have so much hope for the future but it’s still pretty hard going against the grain. My family is supportive, but I have no help financially or otherwise. I am learning the true meaning of grit and hard work. Despite all of this, I see my obstacles as happy problems. I don’t know what the future is going to bring me. It’s gets scary sometimes, but in the words of Vincent van Gogh, “I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.”