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  • Writer's pictureAbigail Quam

Why graduating college at 20 is not what it seems

People usually describe me as reliable, practical, and hardworking; if anyone knows anything about astrology, I am the definition of a Capricorn. This comes out especially through my work and school. My father, a college dropout turned successful Navy career, always stressed that school and work comes above everything. My mom, a teacher, began teaching me from a young age everything from reading and writing to math and science. Because of all of this, I excelled at school - I was in various "gifted" programs in elementary school as well as the Magnet program throughout junior high. I was taking math 3 years ahead and doing twice the work as my peers in normal high school classes.

Then, in High School, I ended up taking classes at my local community college through the Running Start program. Because I did this, I began working upwards of 20 hours a week in between my classes and playing volleyball at my high school. Sometimes I would work at 4am, go to class at 10am, and play in a game later that night. My life never stopped partially because I was driven by the validation of my work accomplishments and a degree. I was ready and excited to head to Washington State University in the fall and continue my success as a student for another 2 years. Life had different plans for me.

We have all been affected by the pandemic. For me, it affected my college experience. I was sent home 7 months into my freshman year. I had just joined clubs, applied for jobs, signed next year's lease, and was developing solid relationships with my professors and classmates. All of a sudden I was sent home and all of those building blocks were knocked down. My days were spent staring at my professors' faces on a screen. And because I had done two years of college in high school, I would only have a little over a year left before I was out in the world as a young professional.

Of course I missed the college experience of game days and events, but overall I just missed school. I felt so much more different and so much more inexperienced than all of my peers already, and I felt like I needed the typical learning experience in a classroom environment and the ability to make connections with others. Many of the internships I applied to were cancelled, and I felt like I would never get another job with my lack of experience. And above all else, there was a literal PANDEMIC going on.

I soon realized that maybe the validation of a degree was not everything in life. Sitting at home all day during lockdown helped me to take a step back for one of the first times in my educational career. I was not happy just because I was getting my degree sooner; in fact I was more miserable. A piece of paper and four years doesn't solve anything if you don't have the drive and the confidence to succeed.

I continued to work all summer at Old Navy, working pretty much full-time from April-August. When I got to school in the fall, I worked as hard as I could to develop relationships with my peers and my professors. Fall 2020 ended up being one of the hardest semesters, but the most rewarding in terms of both educational and professional growth. The more I continue on in my education, the more confident I feel in my skills and abilities.

I still struggle with feeling inferior to my classmates, most of whom are at least two years older than me. Despite this, I continue to push through. Even though I haven't had an internship with a big tech company or travelled abroad for a semester, I am still a hardworking person that can provide value to any project or work environment. The only change I had to make is to believe in myself.

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