Life Paths: Not All High School Drop-Outs End Up Losers

This guest blog is part of an ongoing series that will help showcase the different paths available to students after graduation (and in some cases, before graduation).

By Sarah Cottrell

In 1996, during my junior year in high school, just as spring fever was hitting my small Maine town, I told my English teacher that I was dropping out of school.

I had zero ambition to graduate; in fact I hated school so much that I spent every morning on the bus plotting ways to sneak off the grounds and escape downtown to the sleepy bookshops.

Even if I had stuck with school there is no way I would have graduated on time since I was failing every subject. It would have taken an act of God to get my name to appear on a high school diploma. The day I dropped out, I walked into each classroom and said goodbye to my teachers, returning my books, and promising to stay in touch. I may have been a total “loser” academically, but I was a well-liked kid.

The following day was the first time I spent the day at home without needing to forge my mothers name on an excuse note or masking my voice to the school office to lie through my teeth that my “daughter” was “ill” and needed “rest.” For the first time in my life I was happy. I spent the next 12 hours reading. It was glorious. And then my mother came home from work and asked me what the hell I planed to do with my life.

Three years, 10,000 miles of traveling, and a boat load of life lessons later, the unavoidable truth finally caught up with me that I needed a piece of paper to prove my worth to potential employers. I needed my GED.

After a quick phone call I was signed up for GED classes and registered to take the state exam, which meant the difference between working under the table and making minimum wage. I can’t say that I was able to appreciate that difference at the time, but I went to the adult ed classes anyway. I took the exam. I passed – but barely.

I thought if I had this one milestone under my belt that I could feel some sense of pride in myself. I was no longer a drop out; I had a degree, sort of. I went about working at a slew of odd jobs ranging from flower arranging to slinging coffee and everything in between. I knew I was smarter than this. So I called my parents, moved back home, and enrolled in college.

(Photo: Pixabay)

(Photo: Pixabay)

It took some time for me to be able to prove to the college admissions office that I was capable of standing shoulder to shoulder with other undergrads. I enrolled in community college courses and earned perfect scores. I volunteered and got involved with the local arts scene. Everything I did, every effort I made during that time in my life was shaped around an agenda to get myself in college. Eventually, it worked and I found myself signing up for general education credits at the University of Maine.

It was a day I’ll never forget! There was a small but profound moment while standing in line and watching students in front of and behind me slowly shuffle forward. I realized that I was one of them. I was a college student. The only person in that line who knew I had dropped out of school was me and as far as any of these total strangers were concerned, I was a college student just like them. I rolled the words “college student” over and over in my mind, wanting to cry with pride.

Having to work so hard to put myself back on academic track forced me to fully appreciate the value and privilege of education.

I graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree in 2005 and then went on to earn my masters degree. I held student government posts and work-study positions that would eventually flesh out my first professional resume.

It is rare that I admit to anyone that I am a high school drop out. The judgmental looks tend to sour whatever good impressions I may have made on folks. The truth is, just because a student drops out of school does not necessarily mean that the student is destined for a life of crime and poverty and stupidity. Sure, statistics can paint a sad story but I can tell you from personal experience that if a student, any student, has a dream – a goal, and if he or she has any amount of tenacity or grit then those sad statistics will simply not hold true.

If you know an at-risk student talk to them. Tell them they are bigger than their circumstances. Give them the spark of courage to want to succeed even if the path to their success may be twisty and riff with potholes and dead ends. As the saying goes: Nothing worth doing in life is ever easy.


Maine based writer Sarah Cottrell is the voice behind Housewife Plus at the Bangor Daily News and is a regular contributor to Scary Mommy. She is a co-author in several books including I Still Just Want To Pee Alone from the New York Times Bestselling series. To learn more about Sarah Cottrell’s writing servicespublications + books, PR, or to inquire about having a book reviewed or guest posting for her newspaper blog please visit her websiteBangor Daily News blogFacebookTwitter, or Pinterest pages.


What path did you take beyond high school or college? Did you jump into full-time work? Travel? Join the military? Or perhaps a combination? I’d love to hear from you!  Submit a request with your idea! You don’t have to be a “writer” just passionate about your topic! –Erinne

Erinne Magee

About Erinne Magee

Erinne is a Maine-based writer and freelance editor specializing in first person essays, poetry and picture books. Her work has appeared in publications like: The Washington Post, Redbook, Yahoo News, The Huffington Post, Good Housekeeping and The Toronto Sun. For more, visit: