Kern: The case for coming back


Matthew Kern, Managing Editor

I never should have graduated high school.

At least, not when I did.

By the time I was a senior, I only needed two credits for my diploma: Math and English. The English I didn’t mind, but at that time you’d have been hard-pressed to find me in second-hour pre-calculus. I had always done well in school, until circumstances led me to begin missing math classes in junior year, and by that time a malaise nihilism had glossed over any desire I had to catch up.

I failed the fall semester of pre-calculus, meaning I’d have to take auto-shop to make up for it. I did, then went ahead and failed the winter semester as well, so it wouldn’t be too easy. Despite it all, my guidance counselor, a saint of a woman who refused to deny me graduation over one half-credit of failed math, managed to get me through. I received a “G” grade for my math credit, high enough to pass, too low to count toward my GPA.

After high school I went to a university for a year. At the end of fall semester, I spent finals week in the hospital due, again, to circumstances beyond my control. The school never let me make up those tests. Four months later, I was academically dismissed, having never made up my grades from the fall, and never going to class in the winter.

At the time, I didn’t care. I won’t detail the circumstances which led to my ennui, but I had become too callused by disappointment for this to affect me. I didn’t mourn my dreams of science and art, I merely cursed them.

“Good riddance.”

Fast forward to today, I have a 3.9 GPA. I was on the dean’s list twice last year. I am a member of Phi Theta Kappa and I work here at The Connection. I’m looking at transferring to schools I only ever dreamed of my first go-round.

I’m studying science and art, pushing my passions and curiosity further every day. The change I needed happened through the Covid pandemic. Free time during the pandemic became time for introspection, and provided me with a new perspective.

I needed a total shift of the mind.

Therapy, medication, graduated sobriety; after beginning to address the daily issues, I could begin to re-align my life trajectory. Imagining my life after the pandemic, I didn’t want to go back to wasting away, working behind a bar. The only way I could think to get out was through school.

School, to me, represents opportunity. It represents the ability to gain skills, to build a resume and to show the world, “Hey! Look what I can do.”

That has been exactly my experience. The more time I spend here, the wiser I feel.

A classmate of mine recently asked me, “How do you know what you’re doing here?” I didn’t know how to answer. How could I even begin to describe the journey I’d been on with academic apathy? Could I properly convey how deeply I understood his question?

I told him to look for the things he enjoys. “Listen to yourself, pay attention to the homework you don’t hate.”

I hope that was good advice. It’s what I needed to hear when I was younger.

If I could fully translate my experience with school, I would tell anyone that school isn’t worth the time or the money if you don’t care. It doesn’t matter about what, getting rich, being fulfilled, learning for learning’s sake; without a goal – even a vague one – the effort of school is wasted. Education is a tool, it should help you to reach your ideal self, not prevent you from becoming it.

I encourage everyone to look at the parts you enjoy. Use every class as an opportunity to define yourself. Find the classes you love, the classes you hate, the skills and knowledge you want to hang on to. This is the mindset I approach every new semester with, and it lightens the burden.

Appreciate this time. The real world is waiting and it is nowhere near as forgiving. Take this time to grow, you’ll miss it when it ends.