Perfect Storm

Authored by: Dr. Krista M. LeBrun

Executive Director, eLearning & Instructional Technology (MCCB)

“Thy fate is the common fate of all; Into each life some rain must fall. “

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I don’t think anyone aspires to be a high school dropout.

Often, when I listen to stories of others’ trials and tribulations, there is a moment in time, a perfect storm of events, which caused life to veer off course. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint that moment in time for myself. I don’t feel as though I have some audacious story; nothing happened on a dark and stormy night. I was not a teenage statistic. I did not get pregnant nor suffer from addiction.

Rather, moments occurred much like the rain.  A soft mist at first, then a drizzle…with each droplet washing away a piece of my youth. Like a heavy rain cloud, a storm can only be contained for so long, and my dreams of graduating from high school washed away during my freshman year with the downpour.

In my experience, a ninth-grade dropout becomes ostracized and assumptions are made without regard for the person’s feelings or abilities.  People assumed that I had a baby at home, that I was a trouble maker, or that I simply did not care enough about myself or my education. While I did not consider myself to be popular and outgoing, I enjoyed learning and idolized my teachers. I longed for the experience from the movie The Dead Poet’s Society, in which John Keating, portrayed by Robin Williams, stood atop a desk and enthusiastically encouraged his students to Carpe Diem (seize the day).

By the age of sixteen, I was living with a colleague who had recently dropped out of college. Lost in life together, we lived in a small trailer on the outskirts of town while working menial paying jobs at the shopping mall. Former classmates were studying, planning proms, and attending parties; I was balancing a checkbook, shopping for groceries, and resting in between working multiple jobs.

During those early years, I learned that people look at you one of two ways when they find out you dropped out of school at such a young age: pity or condemnation. Either way, I suppose at some point I was tired of receiving the look. I was tired of the comments and accusations, tired of working and never getting ahead, and tired of missing out on moments that others took for granted.

I am grateful that I eventually received my John Keating moment. It came in the form of Ms. Browning Rochefort. She was the Director of Adult Education at Meridian Community College, and she was the first person who didn’t give me “the look” when I told her I was a ninth-grade dropout. She was warm and kind, and she told me that I had potential.  I didn’t realize at the time what a profound effect she would have on my life.

With a focus on achieving my GED in an effort to obtain a higher-paying job, Ms. Rochefort did her best to instill in me the confidence that I had lost somewhere along the way.  I was still very unsure of myself on the day I sat for my exams. After completing them, I left for work, fearing I had just wasted precious money that was earmarked for bills.

A few weeks later a manila envelope showed up in my mailbox.  It was an inconspicuous piece of mail that transformed me from a high school dropout to a GED recipient. For the first time in a long while, I felt as though I was somebody. I moved around for a while in hopes of finding my place in the world. But, ultimately, I fell back into the rut of paying bills, balancing budgets, and becoming tired all over again.

There were new looks and comments. I remember someone once told me that a GED simply stood for a “good enough diploma,” but my GED meant more to me than most will ever know. It meant that I did not drown in that downpour. I was capable of doing the things Ms. Rochefort recommended, and I was determined to prove everyone who doubted me wrong. Eventually, I found myself back at Ms. Rochefort’s door, eager to move to the next chapter of my life. I had no clue what I wanted to be or what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted a college diploma to hang next to my GED.

While life continues to rain down from time to time, I was able to achieve my goal of hanging a college diploma next to my GED. In fact, after earning my Associates, I went on to earn my Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral degrees. Never in my youth could I have imagined that I would one day turn a GED into a Ph.D.  My collegiate endeavors placed me on a path which redefined my love for learning and spearheaded the career I greatly value.  Currently, I use my experience and passion to serve as the Assistant Executive Director for eLearning and Instructional Technology at the Mississippi Community College Board. In a small way, I get to contribute to the amazing community college system that helped shape who I am today.

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