“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
On Saturday morning I was sitting in a restaurant reading the local newspaper. I was out of town attending an end-of-season coaches meeting for our league. As I was waiting for my pancakes, eggs and fries, I came across a story that not only brought me back to 1978, but it also disturbed me here in 2009.
The premise of the story was the alarming dropout rate in that particular city with high school students. When I saw the percentage of kids who didn’t finish their four year requirement, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It had to be a misprint; I read it over and over. I stared at the number! But then again, over the years I have known a lot of people who have dropped out of high school. I grew up with kids who dropped out, and being a Junior College basketball coach, I have come across a few who have also cut their high school days short. Last season I took a kid on the team who dropped out.
Yours truly was a high school drop-out.
That’s right, in 1978 at 14 years old, I decided to leave Power Memorial after only 3 days. I hated it! Wait, hate is a strong word. No, wait, I did hate it. Why try and sugar-coat how I felt about school? I disliked the structure, the discipline, along with waking up at 5:45 AM.
My late mother Carol tried her best to get me back in two other schools over the next couple of years but it just wasn’t happening.
At 15 I enrolled at John Jay on 7th avenue. No dice. (Actually, we played craps often on the staircase)
At 16 I tried LaSalle Academy on the Lower East Side. Not for me. (The cash my mother gave me to purchase textbooks was spent on other things)
When I turned 17 and my mom was running out of patience with me, we tried John Jay a second time. The only thing that kept me there for the first couple of months was that I was a member of their varsity basketball team. I played 7 games!
Peter Coakley, who at the time was the head coach tried his best to keep me motivated but I just didn’t have any interest in waking early in the morning and attending class. I almost made it. I used to think about all the guys from the neighborhood who played for Jay over the years. They had a rich tradition in not only basketball but football and baseball as well. I became friends with some great people there, but in the end, I gave up.
We even tried a school for dropouts in Canarise. I recall taking two buses. It was about 90 minutes away. I sat in a room with ten other kids and we told each other why we were dropouts. I was like, later for this. After attending the first day, I never returned.
As I look back there were many reasons for dropping out on my end. Fear, ignorance, refusal to obey orders, zero perseverance, but most of all, the lack of courage to face a tough task. So many people in the neighborhood tried their best to keep me grounded. Guys would tell me, ‘Red, go to school!”
I didn’t see the need for it.
How stupid was I?
Some of my friends that I hung out with were attending high school and doing well.
It’s now 2009 and I am proud to say that in the early 1990’s I took the General Equivalency Diploma exam and passed with flying colors. A couple of years later at the age of 33 I enrolled in college. It took five years but I did it! (Thanks to my wife for pushing me and always staying on top of me). And it wasn’t the on-line version; I was a non-traditional student who sat in lecture halls amongst hundreds of students, wrote papers, was assigned a group to work on projects, pulled all-nighters studying, drank Mountain Dew, interacted with other students and of course gave speeches in front of the entire class.
The newspaper article I read yesterday said 25% of high school students drop out in that particular city. I hope someone steps up and does a little more to lower that number. It’ll take a ton of people to change it but the bottom line is if the pupil doesn’t step up and make a stand and say, ‘I’m going to finish high school’, it’ll never get done. You can have all the programs you want, you can line up all the top truant officers, but it’s the kid that has to suck it up and get it done!
Today, when I come across a kid who dropped out of high school I try to use my story as inspiration. I tell him or her that they can do it. ‘If I can do it, you can do it!’ I tell them it will be hard and at times they will not want to go through with it. It takes discipline, hard work, determination, a burning desire to succeed and most of all, someone in their household who is an advocate of education.
If they’re not preaching the importance of education at home, you might as well forget it. Both my mother and father dropped out of school. But fear not, it can be done, even with parents or siblings who dropped out. Sure there are kids who put all the obstacles behind them and proclaim they will be the first in their family to attend college; I know many of them. The key is never giving up!
GO TO SCHOOL!