It was January of 19*cough, cough*.  It was my 18th birthday. While the rest of my senior class was in their respective classes anxiously awaiting spring and all of the pomp and circumstance that prom and graduation would bring, I was making my way to my locker.  I had made a decision that would change the rest of my life.  I was dropping out.  I got to my locker, removed my personal items walked out of the building and never looked back.  I got my GED just a few months later but then settled into a life of mediocrity.  I had officially become a statistic.

As I think about it now, so many years later, I wonder how it was possible that I could become a statistic.  I was one of the smartest kids in my class most of my academic career.  I was quiet, never made trouble, earned perfect grades, and countless honors.  At what point in my life did that all turn around? I can’t actually pinpoint the exact moment because it was a lot of different moments and as I reflect on the answer I think of this…

As a little girl I wanted to be a ballerina/teacher/surgeon.  It wasn’t that at one time or another during my childhood I wanted to be one or another of the aforementioned, I literally wanted to be all three all at once.  I walked on the tips of my toes, so being a ballerina was an obvious career choice.  I loved to be the teacher when my siblings and I played school, so of course I was destined to teach the masses and for some odd reason, which is *not* still true today, I enjoyed watching surgery shows on tv (this was Puerto Rico and I have no idea why they showed surgeries on tv), hence the surgeon.

With the possible exception of teaching, I think that my choices were random and only slightly related to anything I was passionately interested in at the time (Wonder Woman was unfortunately not a career choice) They were more just possibilities that existed and therefore, open to me.   I don’t think that at any point in my childhood the thought “you can’t be everything or even just anything you want” ever entered my mind and when I looked in the mirror I only saw beauty and endless possibilities in my reflection.

Then a little thing called life happened and with it came the naysayers who one by one touched my reflection and left it smudged with fingerprints of their own doubts and their own fears.  I could no longer see myself clearly and saw no option but to slowly accept the distorted reflection before me.  The memories of the beauty and endless possibilities I had long ago seen reflected were all but faded, tucked away neatly in the corners of my mind waiting to be recalled.

But as memories are apt to be impatient, they conjure themselves unexpectedly, somehow knowing when we most need them. The memory of the naive child I was, slowly returned, and spent years wiping away the years of smudges of fear upon smudges of doubt that others, and even I, had left behind.  Slowly I began to see my reflection again and saw in my grown up eyes the faint image of the child who believed that she could be everything and anything and knew then that though that child was gone, her belief still lived in me and was a permanent part of me.

With my family at my college graduation

I have gained a renewed sense of self and with it have come new dreams and many lessons. I no longer want to be a ballerina/teacher/surgeon. I went to college and have since become an educator, a writer, a sometimes singer, an amateur photographer and most importantly a mentor.  In realizing that I am not alone I had to do something to reach out to the other children, other teenagers who just like I did, hear discouraging words and stop believing in their dreams. The world around them sets their bar low and tells them they are fools to try to reach past it.  I had to make sure that they understood their potential and had the tools to reach it.

I am thankful for the course of my life, had it gone differently I may not have been so inclined to be involved in the community and spend time encouraging others to do the same.  There are programs in almost every city and I encourage you to seek one out or create one of your own and make a difference in someone’s life.  After all, I was a statistic, but it in the end it turns out I was miscalculated.


4 thoughts on “From high school dropout to strong (and educated) Latina

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