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January 12, 2014 at 9:30 PM

Guest: How I went from dropping out of high school to earning a master’s degree

Kezia Willingham

Kezia Willingham

I stopped attending high school when I was 14. I was aware enough, then, to know that I was different, yet still too young to know why I felt so alienated. School was not a place I felt welcome. More importantly, what school had to offer — a path to college — didn’t seem to apply to poor kids like me.

During the 1980s, there wasn’t as much awareness around helping socioeconomically disadvantaged children succeed in school as there is today. The truth of the matter is that if a child is struggling with basic needs such as access to shelter, nutrition, medical care or emotional well-being, he or she will struggle to engage in school. That was the truth for me.

Transforming myself from a high school dropout to a college graduate took many years. Eventually, I realized that just because a person may meet one social demographic, such as a dropout, at one point in time, it doesn’t mean her life trajectory is permanently stuck there. I’ve lived long enough, and benefited from enough social mobility programs to know that they work — maybe not in the immediate sense, but over the longitudinal course of life.

I earned my GED when I was about 19, then went on to receive a bachelor’s degree when I was 27 and a master’s degree when I was 31.

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