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My Secret Shame: Part 1

January 25, 2010

I’ve been arguing with myself over if I should write about this subject. When I asked my husband if I should, he said, “Why not? You’ve written about everything else.” Well, not our sex life, but almost everything else. So here goes.

I have a secret. I have held this secret close to the vest for many, many years, and only a few close friends and family members know the truth. Now, any random person reading this blog (the 3 of you who do) will know as well: I do not have a college degree. Now you may ask, “Piggy, what is the big deal with that? Lots of people never went to college. You are obviously an incredibly intelligent, articulate person and a superb writer nonetheless.” To this I would say of course you are correct, however I did go to college, I just didn’t finish. I had one class left and I didn’t get the job done. Not finishing what I started has been the great shame I have carried with me for the past 16 years.

I was an damn good student in grade school and high school. I graduated with honors and got inundated with college brochures. I was used to being one of the smart kids, and I didn’t even have to try very hard. Neither of my parents had gone to college, or any of my older siblings, but my going to college was a given.

When I arrived at the University of Minnesota 22 years ago I was overwhelmed. I was on my own for the first time and horribly unprepared for the rigors of college life. I didn’t know how to study: I’d never really had to do it before. Looking back I think the more important factor was that I was now a tiny fish in a huge pond. I’d always been used to being special, being a stand-out: here, there were tens of thousands of stand-outs. Instead of going to class and reading my text books, I was busy flitting from dorm room to dorm room, frat party to frat party, focusing on socializing rather than school. I didn’t know who I was or what my role was, and I didn’t know how to work for what I wanted. I was a terrible student: a failure.

My college transcript in an embarrassment. I did well in the classes I was interested in, like psychology and writing, but everything else I blew off. I was in school for 6 years because I had withdrawn from or failed so many classes. That final year I had one more step to take: complete the dreaded language requirement. I had taken 5 quarters of French and only needed the last quarter to graduate. Then my financial aid ran out because I had attempted too many credits. So I gave up.

For years upon years I planned to go back and finish that last class. I tried to practice my French so I wouldn’t forget. But I never did go back. And as each year passed, the French that had been a struggle for me to learn from the beginning slipped away. Soon, the prospect of taking that last class became a dreaded and terrifying thing. Moreover, I was traumatized by my poor performance in school. I struggled to make sense of my underperformance and I was horrified that if I went back I would only fail again. I convinced myself that it could not be done, and I would never have a degree. I had disappointed myself and my mother. I was deeply ashamed, and I didn’t see a way to redeem myself. I mostly just tried not to think about it. Telling this to the world is not easy. I am afraid people will think less of me, as I did of myself

Part 2 is next, and there may be a happy ending.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Traci Gregory permalink
    January 26, 2010 5:00 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. It is true about what they say about internal voices. It usually affects you and you alone. It is a funny how that happens.
    Looking forward to the rest of the story.

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