There. I said it. Judge away all you parents of valedictorians. Just know that I am as dubious about this prospect as you are for me. I am not sitting over here with some pie in the sky attitude that my way is better than yours. In fact, you may actually have the last laugh here. And as the school year began last fall, and all the Facebook posts were popping up with photos of grinning high school seniors holding acceptance letters captioned, “He’s an Aggie!!!!!”, I literally had to sit on my hands to keep from typing “LAST MINUTE ON LINE COLLEGE OPTIONS” into google search. But the fact is, Madison is not going to college. She is moving to Los Angeles and going to work.
Hang on a sec while I pop an extra Xanax.
It’s a gap year. We’re calling it a gap year. All the kids in England do it and they’re cool. In fact, there’s something to be said for giving a kid a year to go work somewhere and figure out that they don’t want to just work somewhere. It seems to up their motivation to succeed in college exponentially, and clarifies both where they do and don’t want to be for the rest of their lives. I’ve seen this process up close and personally with my older daughter, Mackenzie.
After graduating high school, Mackenzie did the “right” thing and headed to Auburn University. (I HAVE to go to college mom, I’ve been dreaming of this since I was 3!). She was working as a series regular on Under the Dome simultaneously and had to leave Auburn her spring semester to shoot the show. She took online classes, but then went back to Auburn the following fall. Surprisingly, aside from college football season, life at Auburn was not the rhapsodic experience she expected. In fact, after already working in the adult world from the time she was fourteen, it seemed dumb, expensive and actually pointless. She felt like she was going backwards. So when Under the Dome was cancelled, she left Auburn, and moved to Los Angeles to make a go of this thing.
A gap year was all it took for her to come to us with a clarity I have rarely seen. She was absolutely certain of three things.
- She would rather live in the remotest corner of Alaska without heat than live in Los Angeles.
- She did not at all like the idea of pursuing a career that would potentially be so financially unstable.
- She was coming home, and going back to school with the intent of heading to law school.
She was so resolved in fact, that while I absolutely had to micro manage her college application process, and completely Olivia Pope her move to LA (It’s HANDLED), she actually called Auburn, and un-enrolled herself BY HERSELF. She requested her transfer documents to the Georgia college she’d applied to ON HER OWN. Once she was accepted, she figured out what classes were best for a pre-law student with ANOTHER ADULT THAT WASN’T ME!
Was she even a millennial anymore?
We had success with the gap year. We like what happened with that thing. So at the end of her junior year, when Madison announced that she would not even be applying to college because why…….you would think I would have been relatively calm about it. And I tried, you guys. I was good for most of the year!
But while all the other kids were getting blessed by the pastor on graduation Sunday and naming the universities to where they’re headed, and Madison said, “Madison Lintz- Hollywood, California,” I had to put my head between my knees. I had to breathe deeply and silently repeat, “She is going to Los Angeles already employed. Her salary at 18 is more than her father and I make combined. You do not need a college degree to be an actor. Can I have a cheerio?” (there was a toddler on the floor in the pew behind me.)
What is wrong with me? Why do I care so much if she gets a college degree? I have a college degree and I have always said that I learned more about how to act in my first season doing regional theatre with the Orlando Shakespeare Festival than I ever did in my four years at Penn State. I have never gone to an audition and had them say “Well, we’re not sure……”, then held out my diploma and had them say, “OH! You have a degree in performance from Penn State! Well in THAT case……” Come to think of it, I have never had a single job that has required my college degree.
Over the past year, when I would get yet another email from the school guidance counsellor saying, “Um….it’s getting late……is Madison going to be applying ANYWHERE?” I would console myself with the fact that at least Madison would not exit college with a mountain of debt, only to move back home, like so many other college students in this day and age. What is happening? Why is no one hiring them? Why are they still waiting tables like an out of work actor when they did the deal!? They followed the correct protocol! They got the degree!
I would argue that it’s because so many kids are sent to college because it’s the thing to do, but because they have no idea what they WANT to do yet, it just becomes a very expensive holding tank. A larger playpen. Yes, they know how to study. Yes, they can ace tests. But do they have a viable skill? My parents, who have owned their own company for decades told me they won’t even interview the college graduates of today. Why? Because most turn up their nose at starting pay. They expect to be paid like someone who has worked for decades. Also, my dad says, “Eh, most just don’t really know how to do anything.”
I recently read an article entitled, “What are the Valedictorians of your Class doing? Not Much.” It basically said that if you take a look at all the valedictorians in the world, that yes, most did wonderfully in college. Yes, 91% are employed. But if you take a look at all the innovators of society….the Steve Jobs…..the Bill Gates….. the Mark Zuckerbergs, most weren’t even college graduates, let alone valedictorians. So basically the people who don’t necessarily colour between the lines are the ones changing the world. That said, not everyone who doesn’t graduate college invents Facebook. There is a lot to be said for not changing the entire world, but supplying your own family with the rewards of consistent gainful employment. The valedictorians seem to have this down.
But I think it’s time for it to be OK for a kid to say, “I’m not going to college. I have specialized in something else.” I think there are some kids who should absolutely say, “I don’t believe I’ll give a university two hundred grand of my money when a degree from them will not serve me one little bit. I have a different path.” If you want a career in medicine, or law, you need college. If you want a career in the arts, you will need the money you would spend on tuition, trust me. But lets admit that both are viable choices.
On graduation day, I walked into Madison’s school and looked at a bulletin board with all the graduates photos. Underneath of each was the logo of their chosen college. Under Madison’s was the logo for BOSCH. Like it was a University. I was laughing with the secretary about this and saying how self-conscious Madison was feeling when the headmaster overheard me and hurried out of his office. He said, “No, no Kelly! You tell Madison that in my speech about her tonight I’m going to make what she’s doing instead sound VERY, VERY legit!”
Knowing Mr. Arnold* the way that I do, I know he meant well with his comment. However, all I could think was……Madison will be earning in five months what most students will leave college in debt for. How much more legit can you get?
*Johnathan Arnold is the headmaster of Covenant Christian Academy who has supported our unorthodox journey from day one, allowing the kids to study remotely when they are working. We could not have done this without him and are eternally grateful for his support.