Using Education to Reach the Next Chapter

by Sarah Birdsong
Notebooks and coffee sitting on a desk.

It is no secret that my education, or lack thereof, constitutes a major obstacle in my life. For better or for worse, it has been a source of external validation I’ve measured myself against.

Often to my own emotional detriment.

Today, I reflect on my life and everything that has brought me to this point. Just as I begin to make the move further south, I look back to the first hurdle in my education I managed to leap over.

After a lifetime of self-doubt related to my education, I was the recipient of the following letter. This followed the senior year of my Associates:

To Sarah,

 

Thank you for your recent application for graduation from the Associate in Arts (A10100) program for the fall 2012 term.

 

After a careful review of your records, the Graduation Office has determined that you are currently enrolled in your final courses and are considered a potential graduate.

 

Toward the end of the term, the Graduation Office will send you information regarding degree and diploma orders.

 

CPCC holds one graduation ceremony each year in May. Graduates from the previous summer and fall terms, as well as current spring graduates, are invited to participate, although participation is not required. Ceremony information is mailed to eligible graduates in April. Because degrees/diplomas are mailed directly to students’ homes, graduates receive a congratulatory letter from the College President during the graduation ceremony.

A year and a half later, I finished my final semester at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I had two A’s and two B’s in my senior classes. My final cumulative GPA was 3.5—Cum Laude. I graduated from CPCC with a 3.0, and that was with all of my C’s in math.

I wanted Magna Cum Laude. But I was also working two jobs (and sometimes three) for the entire duration of my college career. As I have noted, I’ve struggled with crippling cognitive impairments that have hampered my ability to concentrate. Some days it was an Olympic event to even pull myself out of my own bed when the day’s schedule bared down on me. To see my abilities in their own light instead of contrasting them to the accomplishments of others. I worked hard for it, but I fell just short, struggling against a riptide of internal and external factors. Some I could work to my advantage and some I simply had to learn to let go of.

Namely, the number B’s in my cumulative grade point average.

Parting Thoughts

I had purposely attended a community college first, knowing my learning disability would drastically affect my grades. Additionally, I knew that when I transferred to a university that my GPA would reset. Tabula rasa. From there, I could labor in the subjects I excelled in. This ensured my grades were the best they could be without the threat of my disability darkening my doorstep.

I worked my ass off for those A’s, sometimes staying in the computer lab writing until it was too late to simply go home. I’d sleep in my car in the parking lot, waiting for the next day to officially begin. Inducted into the Lambda Alpha and Sigma Tau Delta honors societies, I began to grasp that grades alone do not constitute the measure a woman, though they may inform certain faculties. Additionally, I was struggling with invisible and damaging mental processes that no one—not even me—could identify.

In short, I had done the best I could with what I had in the tools at my disposal.

It’s been instructive in learning to accept that my life cannot be calculated by numbers or grades. Most importantly, it’s lesson in being gentle with myself.

It’s a fitting end to a lifetime of insecurity over my education—and the judgments of others regarding it.

ADDITIONAL READING

I have compiled a list of additional resources regarding this entry and its contents for researching the topics therein:

The Anthropology Department at UNCC: take a look at my Alma Mater. The Anthropology Department at UNCC is dedicated to a holistic, four-field approach for understanding the experience and value of human diversity across time, space, and social groups.

CPCC’s Office of Disability Services: my personal experience with CPCC’s Disability Services was as rewarding as it was hopeful. The staff is dedicated to helping you achieve your goals in addition to being both a resource and a source of encouragement.

UNCC’s Office of Disability Services: UNCC’s Disability Services work assiduously to ensure that every student has access to the appropriate accommodations and engagement to get the most out of their education.

Support and Resources for Adults with Learning Disabilities: it is a myth that learning disabilities only affect children. Issues that were present during our educational tenure are present in every social and work-related function thereafter and require just as much effort to process, often with less support.

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