Being Lost

Grades are finished, submitted, and are now a thing of distant memory.  There’s a great feeling one has once the final grade sheet is turned in; it marks the end of another term and puts the proverbial period to the end of a subject.  It’s over, in much the same way that the completion of any other project is over, and now I can direct my attention towards other, possibly more fulfilling, endeavors.  When grades are revealed tomorrow morning, there will be some laughs, some surprises, and a number of people who’ll suddenly know what Shakespeare and his crew meant when they commented on the “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Yep . . . there are going to be a few sad faces roaming the streets in the next twenty-four hours.

I am absolutely thrilled to say, however, that first the first time in practically forever that I have not flunked a student solely based on non-attendance, a milestone I’m unlikely to ever repeat again.  Frankly, I will never understand why people spend money on a class only to not bother to show up.  I will confess that I did this very thing my first year of college, and my rationale, while completely stupid now, made sense to me so many years ago:

I’m an adult and I can do whatever it is I want.

A bit of context:  When I was a senior in high school, I was accepted at a school on the other side of the country.  It’s a small liberal arts school on the East Coast that I hadn’t heard of before I began my application process, but for some reason, the place just called out to me and I had to go.  Where tuition was going to come from was not a concern; this was my calling, and By Golly, this is where I was going to attend school.  The fact that I lived about thirty miles away from a school that is literally a carbon-copy of the first school – thus qualifying for in-state tuition – and that I could save drastically on room and board by just living at home, was irrelevant.  I had to head East, as there my destiny lay, and no one was going to stop me.

Or so I thought.

I should point out that the in-state tuition that year was $525/semester, while the school out East was $5,000/annually.  And before you say, “Gee, that was what, during the Coolidge administration,” the answer (I laugh heartily, while thinking ill of you for the insult), is that it wasn’t as long ago as you might think.

Anyway . . .

Despite my acceptance letter, my parents made it clear that my relocation was not to be.  I was given a number of reasons, but the real issue was my parents’ fear for my safety.  They just didn’t believe I was ready for the world yet (or vice versa), and wanted me to stay home for as long as possible.  I was angry – in part because I knew that they were right – and I acted out, because naturally, that would definitely prove my maturity to them.  I went to the local school – in theory, at least – because my classroom visits were essentially “guest appearances.”  I did surprisingly well that first year, if a 2.25 GPA can be considered “good,” but I could have done better, had I wanted.  Instead, I just wanted out – of the house, my hometown, and the Upper Midwest.  I wanted to be free and loose and everything else a newly-minted adult was supposed to be – at least, according to the movies.  I wanted to make mistakes and court danger, and to cultivate experiences that I’d embarrassingly share with my children someday.

Instead, I was in a school that felt as if it were a step above high school, with many of the same faces, and the same petty nonsensical drama.  The media-described college existence I’d yearned for was not to be found there; it was pretty straight forward, from an academic angle.  I was paying my own way – $525 per semester was a lot back then; hell, it’s a lot now – and when you tossed in books and fees, that was easily a whopping $1500 a year.  I took out loans, but it was going to take me at least thirty years to pay back the $2,000 I’d borrowed for the year.  I’d probably never be able to retire.

So, I did the only thing I could do – I missed classes.  Hell, I was paying for them; I could do what I wanted.  And it wasn’t like I missed the good classes; just the boring ones where I was a face, and not a person – where the instructor couldn’t identify me in a one-person line up.  I left the house every morning, I’d attend the classes that I liked, and skate out on the ones I didn’t.  Sure, the grades reflected this, but I wanted risk and danger, and this was a close as I was going to come to either in the Upper Midwest.

Of course, in time I changed my tune.  After two years of barely treading water, I left school.  By this time, I was an Army Reservist, so I decided to find the devil-may-care life I wanted on active duty.  I never lost my interest in school, though, and almost as soon as I left academia, I wanted to be let back in.  It took nearly a decade for that to happen, and when I did, I made up my mind to never leave – and I haven’t.

It took me years to realize that during that trying time, I was lost.  I knew what my parents wanted me to do, and I knew what society expected me to do.  I had absolutely no clue as to what I wanted to do.  I’d love to say that the Armed Forces helped me find myself, but that’s not what happened.  Oh, I learned maturity, but once I’d finished my enlistment, I probably had less of a clue as to what I wanted from life than I did when I originally signed up.

I am continually amazed that students manage to find the fortitude to graduate at all nowadays.  I’ve had students who’ve had a loving home – until the day that they decided to come out to their parents, and suddenly they find themselves homeless.  Or the students who are overjoyed at meeting that special someone – until the night their “true love” decides to use them as a punching bag.  Then there’s the student who has no emotional support or foundation in their lives, and they push their burdens around  campus like Sisyphus, but pride – and a little fear – won’t let them reach out for help.  Most of this, however, is fodder for another day.

It’s hard to be a student today, so I understand why students would blow off a class – been there, done that.  But for federal regulations, however, I probably wouldn’t flunk a non-attendee.*  Just drop the class and go on your way, I say.  Fill out the form, turn it in, and go in peace.  At least it’d save them some of their tuition costs, and cut down on some of the pending crippling debt.  Like I said, this won’t be an issue this term because everyone stuck around until the end, but I don’t expect this to happen again.

But we’ll see.

* Because financial aid is tied to attendance, non-attendance has to be recorded and graded.  A failure grade can and does affect one’s eligibility for future financial assistance.

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