High school graduation in this country is a rite of passage, a gateway to the vast unknown—the realm of adulthood. “Finally!” each bright young face is thinking as she walks across the stage. “No more adult supervision. I am free to fly to pursue my dreams!” Whether it is being an engineer, a teacher, an artist, or a business entrepreneur, graduates’ dreams are big and most depend on a great postsecondary experience to help them make the transition to an inspiring career. In fact, more than 80 percent of students believe a college degree is important to having a career and 75 percent of parents believe it’s essential for their child to go to college and get a degree.
Thinking back to my own graduation, I remember that walk well. I was anxious, excited, and eager to meet the future. I had no idea what my future would hold but I thought I was ready to explore the possibilities.
As it turns out, college is hard. Harder than high school. More choices. More independence. Higher expectations. And yet, lower levels of support. As a first-generation college student, I found that the majority of students at my college came from a world I didn’t know. Even though I had a merit scholarship, I needed a student loan and part-time jobs just to cover my non-tuition expenses like room and board, books, and fees.
But these challenges in college taught me perseverance and gave me a perspective that I could have gained no other way. This is what fueled the journey that eventually landed me here at the foundation.
In 2012, 750,000 students in this country dropped out of high school. Most never returned to take that graduation walk. For them, it is a devastating reality that graduation, and all of the subsequent benefits of a journey launched by a high school diploma, are not in the future they hold. All of the aspirations they might have to build a better life for themselves and their future family—to change their own stars—sit in a world to which they can see, but has no door.
I’d like to tell you that these students eventually find their way. But the truth is so many still don’t. The vast majority are lost to the education system at large, and surface in the juvenile justice and mental health systems. And as adults, they often end up dependent upon social services, incarcerated, or further marginalized. Too often, these young people face dire consequences as a result of the very circumstances they were hoping to overcome.
But this doesn’t need to happen.
Our partners are making great strides every day in implementing ways to open the door for these students. Higher expectations and better ways of assessing student knowledge and skills are equipping teachers with what they need to identify students who are behind. Aligned resources and tools like those from the Literacy Design Collaborative are helping teachers provide the kinds of support they need to close that gap. And tools from organizations like Get Schooled are engaging students and keeping them motivated on their path to graduation.
Our partners are making great strides every day in implementing ways to open the door for these students.
This year and every year, we at the foundation are committed to ensuring that more students walk across the stage to receive their diploma and leave that ceremony college ready.
So I invite you, wherever you are, to think back—not just to your graduation walk but also to all the steps that led up to it. Consider the people, supports, and experiences that helped you get there. We need to provide every student with these supports so they can step into the bright futures that await them. Help us to help them do just that.