Would’ves and Could’ves

I felt happy. A little distracted but happy nonetheless as I sat with my mentee during a senior send-off event earlier this week in East Harlem.

I never doubted her abilities to graduate from high school or to get accepted into college. No, it was something else that made me happy as I sat on the dust-smeared, plastic chair in the blue-draped room, the school’s primary color washed under the bright white fluorescents.

Whatever challenges my mentee will face in college this fall, I was happy because she got the mentoring that her more socio-economically better counterparts receive without a second thought. I was happy because I guided another human being through the college application process, gave advice and feedback on essays, and will be checking in with her once a month during her freshman year of college.

She reminds me of me, except I never had a college mentor. It wasn’t even clear that I was even going to college when I graduated high school. It was a cursory footnote, mentioned in passing at school and at home. There was no manual, no map, no guiding person to lean to for advice. It was just expected.

There might have been a one-on-one meeting with the school counselor, who everyone thought was airheaded and out of her depth. No one liked her and I don’t remember a useful meeting with her as a high school student. In fact, I recall dreading any meetings with her because of her daftness and blasé attitude towards my future.

I vaguely remember a school-wide assembly my sophomore and junior years. Gathered at the movie theater that served as the school’s event space, we all sat in the dark room, chatting in hushed tones as the principal, vice principal, and school counselor spoke about college and life after high school. There was college but most of all there was talk about honor, duty, and… shit. Whatever else that was part and parcel of a DoDEA school where military codes of honor and etiquette reigned supreme.

It was a confusing time. Actually, a better description would be to call it a “lost” time.

I remember only the 4.0 GPA and high-performing JROTC students seemed to sail through without issue. Everyone seemed to know, or have some idea, of what was coming next. We didn’t really talk about it. College, and leaving our friends and being scattered across the globe. As military kids this was just an inevitable part of life.

That’s what it looked like, anyway.

As I sat in the bluish gymnasium in East Harlem, and listened to a read-aloud of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” I wondered how different things could’ve been. There are a lot of would’ves and could’ves: Would I have ended up a different university, right after high school instead of having an unproductive gap year? Could I have had a better idea of what to pursue instead of blundering through community college and transferring and everything that followed thereafter? Or, how different would my life outcome have been had my family lived in a “normal,: American life, away from the military apparatus, in some nondescript location in the continental U.S.?

Of course, this pondering does me no good. What’s happened happened. The only thing I can do now is to try to direct my life in the trajectory I want it to go in spite of the challenges and barriers that are up.


7 thoughts on “Would’ves and Could’ves

  1. Gary A Wilson says:

    Hello Gina, your notes above resonated with me in many ways. I too had no real direction to how or if, I should do the college thing after high school. A good friend, after trade school, picked me up, recognized that I had potential and directed me before it was too late. That you did this for someone else, wow – girl – you are a hero! Where is the applause button?

    1. Gina says:

      Thank you, Gary. It’s been an interesting year with my mentee and a great experience that I signed up for another year! I’m very excited about meeting my new mentee in a few weeks.

  2. Tena Carr says:

    For me, going to a community college was pretty much a given based on the wishes of my parents at the time…. Except that I didn’t have a good clear idea of what I was going to college for. I spent something like 4-5 years at the comuunity college and came out with a Big Fat Nothing – no degrees, no certificates, nadda. I did take a bunch of General Ed type stuff but that was it for the most part. I’m currently trying to go back to school starting this fall into the HIT (Health Info Technology) program

    1. Gina says:

      It seems to be the general problem of the college-bound mentality, especially for today’s young people. The obsession of getting students to and through college strips away the less obvious aspect of what it actually means to go to college and university, beyond just for the purposes of credentialing.

      It’s great to read that you are trying to get back to school for something you find an interest in. I wish you luck!

      1. Tena Carr says:

        Thank you. Wishing you the best as well

  3. Rowena says:

    Gina, what a great opportunity to mentor someone and help guide their future. It seems like the experience has also given you insights into your own experience. I have found as a parent that the door swings both ways. While I am nurturing and teaching my kids, they’re also educating and stretching me. I should also add that our fetchaholic dog has also trained me very well because I now through the ball on auto-pilot.
    I have found that most of us have good and bad from our parents, as well as our lot. I picked that up from another blogger and really liked the concept. Most of us are dealing with something but it’s all different. Some seem to get quite a rough deal, while others seem particularly blessed but there’s usual a chink in the armour somewhere.
    Best wishes,

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