I’ve known since I made the decision to leave school that I wouldn’t have a traditional graduation. There would be no walking across the stage, my gown fluttering behind me, flashes of the camera in my family’s row while the principal pressed a cylinder of paper into my hand. I would not celebrate with my classmates afterward, generously distributing hugs to everyone I’d liked and not liked and not ever spoken to. I knew that, just as well as I knew I wouldn’t ever attend prom--but, hey, look what happened there.
You make choices, when you decide to withdrawal from public education, that mean you don’t have every traditional high school experience. That was okay with me, and it still is. I always planned on graduation looking a little something like this: my Mom would write my diploma, and my family would go out to dinner to celebrate. I still followed the same schedule I would have in school: I was a junior at the beginning of August, and I was going to finish school in May of 2016.
This is written on the ancient shirt I got in Kindergarten at my elementary school, nearly twelve years ago: Class of 2016. On the back of it are my classmates’ names, mine tucked there near the bottom--an alphabetical consequence of having my surname. I talked grandly about the future when I was younger, defying the declaration on the shirt. I was going to graduate when I was sixteen, go immediately into veterinary school, and open my own practice!
Luckily, it didn’t take me long to realize I wasn’t suited for that profession.
My plans have changed a lot over the years. After that early surge of academic ambition, I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that college would come in the fall of 2016. I wasn’t in any hurry to complete school, adamant that there was no need to push myself.
In January, I started a new curriculum to fill in some gaps that I’d missed in math. Admittedly, this was my own fault. I became pretty burned out on numbers during school and gleefully avoided them for two years into my full-time homeschooling venture. The first few lessons of this course were vital, and really helped me to understand concepts I’d previously been unable to.
The course is one-hundred ninety lessons, and forty-one into them, I was beginning to feel dispirited. It wasn’t that I was incapable of the work; rather, every time I sat down to do a lesson it was with foreboding. I knew it would take me at least an hour no matter what, and on subject matter that I felt was going to be entirely wasteful.
A few months back, while out running errands with my mom, we dropped into Work One to get some information on graduation programs with my nearly sixteen-year-old brother in mind. I sat in a plastic chair as one of the advisors dropped into the seat next to Mom and went over the options with her. One of them was to take the TASC. They offered preparatory classes if you needed them, to boot. She lamented that this probably sounded like a good idea for Ben, and then she looked to me and said, “You know, you could do the same thing.”
I felt a recoiling in me at that. Get my GED? Disparagingly, I shrugged my shoulders and pressed my lips together. “No thanks,” I said, “I’ll just get my regular diploma next year.”
This scene came back to me as I was sitting at the table a couple of weeks ago, just having finished lunch. I knew I had yet another monotonous math lesson in front of me--actually, scratch that: lessons in front of me for, oh, the next year and a half--and it felt like it was getting me nowhere. When I really thought about college, I felt a dart of panic. Like: where was I going to go? And what was I going to do? And--and what if I couldn’t get in?
I got fed up. The uncertainty was bothering me (and I’m someone who likes to know exactly where I stand), the boredom was eating away at me, and all the sudden I was struck with the intense desire to be done.
“Mom,” I called out, because she was in the kitchen, “can’t I just do that thing and go ahead and graduate?”
These words had a domino effect. It began that afternoon when we went into Adult Basic Education, located in the back of the community college, and talked to Mrs. Shepard at the desk who explained everything thoroughly and answered all my questions, of which there were many.
First, I would take the TABE test. This would assess whether or not I was ready for the TASC. With a bit of trepidation, I agreed to it, and was signed up for that coming Thursday--just two days away. The next TASC test was two weeks away, and I figured I had until then to prepare for it.
The TABE test went well, much to my surprise. Part of that is due to how relaxed the environment is. I took the exam in their computer lab. The questions it asked ranged from basic math to light algebra; the reading questions were much the same. Nothing was immensely difficult.
I got my results and immediately scheduled to come in and take the TASC practice tests the following Monday. The next day, I checked out the TASC book at the library (by McGraw-Hill Education) and spent the weekend reviewing the math section, which ended up feeling a little bit fruitless. There were still plenty of questions on the practice exam that begged the question, “Why, again, are you doing this?”
My self-doubt turned out to be unnecessary. The TASC practice exams were a third of the size of the regular TASC portions (Reading, Social Studies, Science, Math, Writing), and it judged your likelihood of passing the TASC based on the number you got correct. I got enough of each to earn a 99% chance of passing, although this really didn’t take much. So, skeptics--no, you do not need to be familiar with the ins and outs of algebra. It’s unnecessary for you to ask Science to move into your house for a while. Just have him over for dinner a few times.
I’m not saying that you won’t need these subjects, but don’t panic. That’s what I was doing, and it turned out that I knew a lot more than I thought I did. I walked out of the doors Monday with my TASC test scheduled and a much lighter spring in my step.
I got into the car and my Mom turned the ignition. “Are you all tested out? Or what about just going and signing up for the Accuplacer?”
I casted a dubious glance toward the community college, then down at my mother’s slippered feet.
“I completely forgot to change into shoes,” she’d explained over the phone earlier, when I called her to pick me up. She’d ended up with several thorns in her foot after a weekend hike with friends. “So I can’t go in anywhere.”
“That’s never stopped anyone in this town before,” I quipped.
“You’ll have to go in by yourself,” she was saying now.
Hm. Venturing into unknown territory without a parent’s aid. Steeling myself, I went on in and spoke to a couple of women at the desk. They were very informative and helpful. We added an ‘e’ to Madline (computer typo, and not on my birth certificate, thank goodness), which I was under in their system, and got my account and password set up for Class Connect. Mom had already done the registration online a few months before.
I returned to our vehicle holding a card that read Accuplacer: 10 a.m.
This, I wasn’t too worried about. The Accuplacer is merely an assessment test that the community college has you take to see what classes you’ll qualify for. It definitely fosters the ‘swim-not-sink’ ideology, and I don’t contest that.
I went back two days later for the Accuplacer. I was prepared to take this test in the college, but it was actually administered back in the Adult Basic Education building. I laughed as I walked into the room and greeted the women I’d seen three times before by now. They guided me to the computer lab yet again.
The proctor pointed me to my seat beside a man who was also taking the test. I started it up. Less than an hour later, my stomach was protesting my light breakfast. Never--not ever in my life--has it growled so loudly and so aggressively. After one especially embarrassing rumble, I felt morally compelled to lean back and apologize.
“Oh, that’s okay,” he said. “I didn’t even notice.”
I let out a breath as I leaned forward. If he hadn’t before, now he would. It roared again. I was in such a state of burgeoning starvation that I took a break and called Mom to have her bring me something to eat. Anything to quiet the beast.
Moral of the story: always pack a snack in your purse.
The Accuplacer took me about two and a half hours total. There were two math sections, both of which were difficult for me. Everything I knew about functions, coordinates, and planes went spiraling out the window. I still did well enough to test into college math, which was all that mattered.
The next step was getting signed up.
This, I was really excited about. Nothing so far seemed quite as concrete as actually having my name attached to some classes come fall. Mom and I got flavored cokes at Dairy Queen (chocolate for her, cherry-vanilla for me) to commemorate the day, then went immediately to campus.
I must have missed the memo, because I found out there was a student orientation on Campus Connect that I had to complete before I could meet with the advisor. This derailed us by a half hour. I situated myself at the bank of computers, turned the volume down low, switched on the closed captions, and watched about three five-minute videos and two or three two-minute ones. At the end of every video, you had to answer questions to prove you were listening.
It felt like a slow process, but in reality it was actually pretty quick. Right after I finished, the advisor told us to come on in. I felt at ease right away, like I had gained some traction on this whole process, as she ran me through the list of classes I could take and what my schedule would look like.
I don’t want to declare a major yet, so we’re sticking to general studies until something more specific materializes to me. But--perhaps unsurprisingly--I’m leaning toward Journalism.
“I didn’t think I’d do this, so if I seem kind of uninformed, it’s because I wasn’t planning on it,” I explained to my advisor.
I left a little under an hour later with three stapled-together papers in my hand. On them was my schedule and my classes. My excitement was a little difficult to contain. I rattled the list off to my Dad, and then my brothers, and then my best friend over the phone.
The next morning, the first thing I grabbed was that schedule. I amused myself thinking that this would be the adult equivalent to a little kid stubbornly taking their favorite stuffed animal everywhere with them.
“Look,” I would say to strangers in the grocery store, holding out the proof of my recently matured existence. “I’m enrolled at community college!”
That probably wouldn’t be well-received. I am, afterall, not a sponsor of the school. But I am all for it. At this point, I wouldn’t have been ready to go straight into a four-year school. This way, I can stay at home for the next couple of years while I work on the first half of my degree. This will really allow me to focus on my work. Plus, I’m not going to be buried in debt a couple years from now. Compared to other schools, it's cheap.
I’m hardly ashamed to be going to community college. At one point in my life, I was completely against it. Community college, I surmised, was for dropouts and under-achievers. Excuse my gross misunderstanding, please. That is not the case at all. It’s accessible to everyone, which makes it great, and everyone who takes the incentive and signs up should be as proud of themselves as someone who just got into a four-year school.
Anyone attending a college, be it community or state or an Ivy League, should take pride in the fact that they are furthering their education. The incentive and the drive to do so is the first step, and the rest follows.
The last step in this particular process was the TASC. Contrary to my early belief (and my Dad’s slightly reserved response when I relayed my graduation plans to him), the TASC is not the GED. It’s a high school equivalency exam that tests the student on Math, Social Studies, Science, Reading and Writing at a high-school graduation level. This is not the same thing your neighbor Ted got in 1980 after he got expelled from school for fighting.
The test is written around the Common Core Standards which, if you are wishing to obtain something that requires you to be up-to-par with everyone else at twelfth-grade level, is a good thing. It’s mostly multiple-choice, but there are a few gridded response and answer boxes as well.
I took the first half of these tests--Science, Social Studies, and Math, in that order--on Monday. I was anxious about the Science, because that has never been my strong suit. What do you know, I passed! The jubilation I felt was unrivaled by any other relief I’ve ever known.
I coasted in Social Studies feeling pretty good. Some of the questions were more difficult than others, but a lot of them felt very accessible. I passed that as well and went immediately into reading. When I finished that, it was twelve-thirty, and I was ready to go home.
Mrs. Shepard didn’t have my reading scores yet, but as I stood in the breezeway on my cellphone, waiting for my Mom to pick me up, she stuck her head in.
“I can now tell you that you passed the reading,” she informed me.
A smile lifted my cheeks. “Great! Thank you!”
Three down, two to go.
Tuesday, my last official day as a highschool student, dawned at six forty-five a.m. I threw on my Eeyore robe (the epitome of sophisticated attire), went downstairs and got my patented cup of morning coffee. The two hours until we had to leave passed quickly.
We seemed to hit every red light on our way there, prompting a vision of me flying through the doors a minute past nine, brandishing my I.D. like a police badge. Mrs. Shepard would shake her head and tell me I was too late, I’d have to wait until the next testing date. I’d look desperately toward the computer lab to find my fellow TASC-takers absorbed in their computers, having been gifted with the virtue of punctuality.
None of that actually transpired, but it was entertaining to think about nonetheless.
I sat down at the computer feeling confident that I’d be finished in a couple of hours--the allotted amount was four. Instead, I found myself utilizing every minute on the clock--nearly one-hundred-twenty minutes for the math, and the same for writing.
I found the essay component to be the most enjoyable part of the whole process. I toyed with my wording and tweaked a few things as the time began to diminish. I hit “finish test” with about seven minutes to go. Finally, I could say I was well and truly done.
I found out I passed and got my scores. You must get a minimum of five-hundred on each subject to be considered proficient in it. The number of points earned for each question appears to be varied, because I scored higher on at least one section that I got fewer correct on than another.
With a promise to stop in and see everyone come August when I start classes, I headed toward my freedom--and lunch. My mom was waiting in the lobby for me. I felt slightly dazed as I reached out and clasped her hand. I heard the congratulations, the ‘I knew you could do it,’ but they barely registered.
I was done with highschool. Like that.
Truthfully, it didn’t feel like I had to do much preparatory work in order to pass these tests. It’s hard for me to digest that students spend so much of their time and energy on materials they will never see again. I don’t wish to discredit the highschool experience in confessing that, though, or the hard work of the teachers and staff. All of that is very valuable. It just so happens to be that, for me, this was the best option. I like to keep moving forward, always, and this was the perfect method of transition for me into a new chapter of my life.
The TASC is a great option for students seeking an alternative method of graduation. Everyone I encountered in the past couple of weeks was helpful, friendly, and supportive. I’m fortunate to have a network of people at home who also support me. That has helped tremendously. I owe my parents, brothers, grandparents, and friends a huge thank you for all their time spent on and belief invested in me.
I’m eagerly anticipating my graduation party, which is a concept I’d previously never courted, come the end of May. To tide us over, as an early celebration, my family, my best friend and I went out for sushi Tuesday night. It was wonderful to sit and eat miso soup and a California roll, and later ice cream, and just marvel at the fact that I’m finished with high school.
Onto bigger, better, more beautiful things.