Can’t Learn Without Some Earn

Earlier this week, the blogosphere was rocked once again by the tour de force known as Samara. 

She went on a holy rant, describing the broken education system in North America. She quoted Pink Floyd. She made us love her more as she related her fears for her son and our generation as a whole that’s trying to function in an uneducated but expensive society.

It got me thinking: I haven’t lived in the United States in a very long time, so I don’t know everything about the current state of schooling, or lack thereof.

But I have had what you might call a Motley Crue (my brain is so infused with music, I honestly don’t know how to spell this phrase any other way) of American + Canadian + homeschooled + just plain whacked-out education.

I’m certainly not the smartest person I know. I’d never even heard of Common Core math until Samara came along, but it sounds terrifying.

I still marvel at the fact that I can flip a switch, and 9 times out of 10, light will enter my room.

Like Aussa, the idea of outer space boggles and taunts my mind-hole a little bit. I do wonder how everything around me is real, but I don’t question it or seek out the answers.

I’ll never be an inventor or a scientist.

In fact, most of my education, I “earned” through lying and, some might even say, stealing.

I was born in 1987. The #1 song the week I was born was “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake. Forever destined to straddle that line of being an 80s baby and a 90s kid, living with a single mom who was born in 1948.

Yeah, THAT 1948.

She grew up in Florida, in what I’ve heard was a manse (pastor’s house) that still thought it was okay to employ African-Americans to do everything for you, for low wages.

My mother raised me OLD SCHOOL.

When I wanted something, I had to earn it. One summer, I planted 200 petunias in our yard just so I could have an American Girl doll for Christmas.

I wasn’t allowed to complain about food, clothes or anything really.
Also, I was kind of racist and intolerant until 2007. But that’s jumping ahead.

I was educated at private Christian schools through grade 3. I was the weird one, the outcast who was so quirky and self-entertained that I didn’t realize I was the outcast…most of the time. But addressing bullying wasn’t really a thing in 1995. (Lord Almighty, that was 20 years ago. Someone hold me.)

So, my mom pulled me out of school, determined to educate me herself.

According to Mom, the three R’s were the most important: reading, wRiting (REALLY NOW?!) and ‘rithmetic.

But she had no follow-through and I had no desire to learn, since hey, apparently the world was ending soon.

By the time we moved to Canada in 1998 (to escape Y2K, of course), I’d already put in a solid two years of playing hookey. 

I’m convinced that my love for books is the only reason I can consistently spell words. 

Surprisingly enough, the world did not end. In the woods, I’d been busy learning how to light fires in pouring rain and shoot a gun and drive standard and stock up food so squirrels can’t get it, but had no idea digital cameras or Starbucks existed. 

When we emerged from the woods after 4 years in 2002, we were no longer Americans. But definitely not Canadians either. 

In 2006, I finally woke up to the fact that we literally did not exist in Canada (paperwork, shmaperwork am I right? #y2k #yolo) and that to survive here, I might actually need a real education. The SCHOOL BUILDINGS WITH TEACHERS IN THEM kind. 

August of 2006, I walked into the office of the local high school, and was like, “Hi, I’m an American-born homeschooler and I’d like to graduate. Please.”

Through a series of meetings with principals and guidance counselors, I successfully weaved a web of white lies and woe-is-me’s. 

I’m from the States, and my paperwork for living here hasn’t come through yet. But I’m working on it. Noooo I wasn’t. 

I’ve been homeschooled for awhile and I’m all caught up, I just want to complete my Dogwood diploma. I hadn’t officially opened a textbook in more than 5 years; who was I shitting?

Oh yeah, I can definitely pay for my courses if my paperwork hasn’t come through by the end of the year. Bahaha!

It worked. I became a registered student of the 2007 graduating class.

Granted, it was under the Adult Graduation program (for drop-outs, and lazy butts like me) so I wouldn’t be eligible for any bursaries or scholarships. But it only required 20 credits, and they treated me kinda like I was special anyway. Poor immigrant homeschooler. Let’s make sure she’s okay. 

I took part in a full 40-credit year, even though I didn’t have to. I was the only graduating student in the whole world that wanted to be there. I wasn’t burnt out; I was thirsty. I got excited about homework, I liked (almost) all of my teachers, I participated like I was dying. 

Of course, the first few weeks were like being pushed into the deep end of the pool after I’d just learned to doggie-paddle.

English 12. History 12. Math Essentials. Ooh, theatre. Ooh, choir. Computer basics. What the hell is Textiles? Why are there so many hallways? Why are the classes listed in alphabetized blocks? I have to remember a locker combination?

Oh thank God, a library.

My friends were really helpful too…at eating my lunch from the cafeteria. I know the movies make cafeteria food like prisoner’s chamber pots, but really, this school had a legit cook. Chicken caesar wraps, get in my belly.

Mom was a little worried. She knew our circumstances were precarious, but she wanted to see me succeed like a real self-starter, just like she’d been trying to teach me my whole life. Her fears of Y2K were still strong in the back of her mind, that only the timing of its occurrence had been false. Revealing our illegal status and doing the proper paperwork was not an option. She set aside some money for that end-of-the-year bill that would inevitably come.

Looking back, I can honestly say that that was the best year of my life. I know, I know, I’m married to an awesome guy and I’m legally allowed to be here now and life is pretty good. But that first taste of independence and hope and knowledge was so good. For the first time in my life, as I wrote essays and made people laugh in the theatre and sang my first solo to a standing ovation and walked the hallways with my friends who were so recently strangers…I felt like I was part of something. I belonged. My quirkiness and unique lifestyle wasn’t something to mocked. It was okay to dance with a boy at my prom. It was exhilarating to spend 12 hours on a Greyhound bus for a music festival in the next province. It was pride-inducing to have a Work Experience Course at the local newspaper, where I met even more people and discovered that I love to write. Without worry of the future or regret of the past, that year was completely and totally mine.

Before I knew it, actual graduation was upon me. My music teacher surprised me by asking if I’d not only like the open the ceremonies by singing the national anthem but to ALSO perform the Class of 2007’s graduation song – my choice.

My first thought was: I know exactly what song I’m going to sing and my second thought was: Well, crap, I guess I better learn the Canadian National Anthem.

It was a magical night. I donned that royal blue cap and gown, they called my name, I walked down the aisle of the hockey arena without tripping, I heard thousands of voices cheering for me, and I sang my heart out.

I still remember the words.

You can spend your whole life building something from nothing,
And one storm can come and blow it all away…build it anyway.

You can chase a dream that seems so out of reach,
And you know it might not ever come your way…dream it anyway.
God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good
And when I pray, it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway, I do it anyway.
You can pour your soul out singing a song you believe in
And tomorrow they’ll forget you ever sang…Sing it anyway.

I sing, I dream, I love anyway.

Another standing ovation.

The following week, I nearly choked when I saw the newspaper I’d been working for post a picture of me on the FRONT PAGE, while singing the Canadian National Anthem with MY HAND OVER MY HEART LIKE A FRICK-FRACKING AMERICAN. No one gave me the memo, okay?! Also, you don’t even know how many shenanigans I pulled to get to that day, so let me just be the only person in the entire f’ing arena to put my hand over my heart!

So I guess what I’m trying to say is…I did it. I pulled it off. I, with a very poor starting education, passed all of my grade 12 classes with nothing lower than a B. I graduated, and not only just, but with honours. I look at my Dogwood as a reminder anytime I need to remember that I am capable of accomplishing much with little.

But as much as I thought I pulled it off, that I kept my secret so well…someone knew.

I’ll never forget the day my mom came home from the school office that summer, completely flabbergasted.

“Carly…I went in to pay the bill for your schooling, and they told me it wasn’t necessary. Someone had already anonymously taken care of it…did you tell anyone?”

In shock, I stammered, “N-n-no! Are you sure it wasn’t the school?”

“Yes. They made it clear that you weren’t taken care of by the school, and that this person was to remain anonymous. I can’t believe it.”

I still can’t believe it either. In my joy and thirst and exuberation, I’d accumulated over $2000 of expenses for my graduation. To this day, I have no idea who paid for it. Whoever they are, they made me feel seen, believed in, supported, and they literally made it impossible for me to ever repay them.

If you’re THE ONE and you’re reading this, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You made my dreams come true.



10 thoughts on “Can’t Learn Without Some Earn

  1. Damn, you’re a good writer. You had me laughing and sad and all the feels.
    I’m so happy that school made you happy. And you sure know how to ROCK a cap and gown, amirite?

    • I’m so so happy you feel this way!

      Hah, yeah, I think I’m a little bit of a deer caught in the headlights here. I was just exiting my awkward teenager phase and entering my awkward young adult with braces phase. πŸ˜‰

  2. That. Is. AMAZING! Talk about compassion in action! AND WAY TO GO YOU! You sure are full of pluck, and GOOD FOR YOU πŸ˜€ I love that kind of ‘can do’ attitude, and I hope one day I have one of my very own.

    • I think you do have it! Maybe in a different way, because I am not the type of person who enjoys kickboxing and bike riding and all those things you thrive at. Are you kidding? I wanna look hot and make it EASY PLEASE! xoxo

      • Hmmm that’s more a compelling need to lose weight and get thin and take control…which hasn’t been THEE BEST ever way to have a ‘can do’ attitude, but I ‘have done’, at least. I just now need to convince myself to stop.

        And if you wanna look hot, ask Beth or Mandi for tips – I got nothin!

  3. I’m so impressed with your story and how beautifully you’ve told it here. I felt like I should actually stand up and clap at the end, so consider this another standing ovation. You’re kind of my hero now. You have a drive and determination I admire and aspire to have myself one day (and I’m a lot older than you).

    • Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever been called someone’s hero before. Thank you. Honestly I’ve gotten kinda lazy in the last 5 years so don’t look too closely πŸ˜‰ Thanks for showing up here!

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