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The Starting Line

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

“Just get yourself to the starting line, from there, the possibilities are endless.”-JWC

The hard cement floor was crowded with soon-to-be graduates donned in heavy black robes tapered in gold—the colors of our school. From where I was standing, all that was visible were a sea of backs, and artistically crafted caps with all kinds of crazy (and creative) little sayings like “She Believed She Could So She Did” and “Finally!” and “I’m Poor!” Yes, most of these pending graduates were the age of my children—but that didn’t stop me. Nothing did. It was finally time, the day I had waited for my entire life but never thought I would see: the day that I, a high school dropout, would be graduating magna cum laude from a major university. Hearing the powerful “Pomp and Circumstance” fill the large arena, I couldn’t believe that I was there. I felt as if I were floating—about to awaken up from the most empowering dream I’d ever had. I felt the tears well up in my eyes; I nearly collapsed: Just hold it together, Jill.

College had always been a dream of mine, but for most of my life, it was something that was out of reach; you see, I didn’t even have a high school diploma. Since 1986—the year I quit high school—I have lived with the shame of not finishing school; in fact, I was so embarrassed that for 30 years, I told very few people my shameful secret—I was afraid of being rejected. I thought others would look at me differently if they knew the truth. I was a prisoner of my own shame and secrets.

For years, my mother begged me to get my GED, and a few times, I would start the process and then quit because I was paralyzed with fear. I couldn’t face another failure in my life—I thought I wasn’t smart enough even to pass a high school equivalency exam. I was broken, beat down, and emotionally defeated—this was the way I perceived myself for years. However, all that changed in 2012 when I decided I was going to get that college degree—nothing would get in my way. And nothing did.I reset my life. Although I had my sights set on earning a college degree, I still had to get to the starting line, and that meant obtaining my GED.I decided to create a timeline for myself. I bought a GED study guide, saved the money for the test, and registered. I studied in every spare moment I had, not telling anyone what I was doing. I took the test and passed every section but math; however, I didn’t let that discourage me. I took a few more months and studied day and night, retook the math portion, and passed! At 43 years old, I earned my high school diploma—I made it to the starting line—the possibilities were endless.

With pride (and my high school diploma in hand), I registered for classes at the local junior college. Within a month, I found myself sitting in my first college course. I felt a sense of pride that I had never felt before, and although my mother was no longer alive, she was certainly with me whispering, “I’m proud of you, Jill.” Over the next two years, I soared to new personal and academic levels. I earned my AA in education and graduated with honors. In 2015, I was accepted to the University of Central Florida, where I would finish my degree in English Literature with a concentration in pedagogical writing and rhetoric.

On the morning of Thursday, May 4, 2017, I received my Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of Central Florida. With a GPA of 3.9, I graduated in the top five percent of the College of Arts and Humanities—Magna Cum Laude. It is a moment I will never forget.

Since then, I have gone on to earn a double master’s degree in English Literature and Creative Nonfiction from Southern New Hampshire University. Currently, I work for the online education platform Outschool where I write, design, and implement courses in English, academic, and creative writing. I have the distinct honor of mentoring middle and high school students all over the world.

I want to share my story with other women—particularly those that feel they have no options and have lost hope in themselves. I promise you—there’s always hope. My advice to you beautiful ladies is this: this is your time and your life. You can do anything you put your mind to—you can reset your life!

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