I’m One Of the Lucky Ones: Muriel Sylvanus’ Story

Muriel blogs at StoryCache.

As I’m sitting here contemplating my homeschool-to-college story and how to write about it, I think of all the other stories my homeschool brothers and sisters will have to tell alongside mine, and I think… “I’m one of the lucky ones.”

For all the positive stories of a seamless transition, I expect there to be war stories from those who had to fight for themselves. For every transition story, positive or negative, I expect that there’s an empty space where there is no story because you still haven’t gotten to go yet.

I’m lucky, because I didn’t just get to go, I was told to go. College was expected and prepared for.

Of course, I didn’t want to go. My argument was “If I’m just going to be a stay-at-home wife and mom, what’s the point?”

The argument came partly from my mother, and partly from my group of friends who weren’t going to be going to college. With them, I complained about how ridiculous college was, and said that I was only doing it because my dad was making me, thereby establishing my cover as a godly, submissive daughter despite the cesspool of worldliness I was about to wade into. Together, we justified my dad’s decision as something that God would bring good out of – maybe I would find a husband there.

Behind all that ideology and back-patting was a severe burn-out on all things educational, born of long years of being educated in a way that wasn’t conducive to my learning style at all. I was intellectually exhausted and completely unmotivated. But since it was verboten to critique homeschooling, and by correlation, my parents, I clung to the ideology. Cue more back-patting. Such a good little homeschooler!

Now I’m on the other side of college and I can’t believe how just-dig-a-hole-and-bury-myself-alive stupid I was being.

College was not difficult academically – the face-to-face setting and classroom interactions kept me focused and alert and my approach to picking a degree was a “path of least resistance” move.

It was not difficult financially – being from a large family with a modest, not extravagant, income made federal and state grants a certainty, and I had the support I needed from my parents to file and to fill in whatever financial gaps where left.

It was not difficult socially – embarrassing in retrospect to be sure, but at the time I was elated to have broader social access; I loved diversity even as I tried to squelch it by attempting to convert everyone; and honestly, I loved being the weird one in a given social group. It made me stand out as actually being someone interesting and unique, whereas in the more homogenized, acceptable weirdness of homeschool culture, I was relegated to the sidelines due to being female and shy.

Of course, it could be said that I shouldn’t have found college such an easy experience– what if I had picked a more difficult degree? If I went back to school today, it’d be in an entirely different field that I simply don’t have the necessary pre-requisites for. I would have to do catch-up work first. My homeschool education would not have been adequate. And my approach to socialization should indicate just how seriously inept my social skills actually were (and still are today, to be honest, though I’ve learned how to hide it).

But I’m still the lucky one, because I still have a degree, despite the rampant facepalms and stupidity, and that is enough to get me into the door of any public university should I pursue different, or further, degrees.

And I’m lucky to have someone who made me do it, because for all that my dad was pretty awesome and deserves sainthood, there’s another story where someone’s parents were heinously misguided and kept their children imprisoned in patriarchy, isolated from society, and academically stunted.

And that’s unequivocally wrong and horrendous.

So to all the unlucky ones – I’m sorry. I don’t even have the words to express how frustrating and angering it must be. But you do, and I’ll be reading your stories. And to those who don’t yet have stories – I hope one day you will.

And to the lucky ones like me – let’s recognize our privilege, and be aghast that in this day and age, higher education is still inaccessible to some. Let’s fight for the educational rights of all and not rest in complacency.

And to the lucky, newly-minted graduates who are about to create a story: Don’t call your history prof a “liberal commie” just because he doesn’t teach revisionist history, mkay?

Dealing with Culture Shock: Latebloomer’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

There was always an expectation in my family that I would go to college. Both of my parents had a college education and saw its value, and they didn’t cave to the general attitude at our homeschooling cult church that higher education wasn’t appropriate or necessary for girls. Even though my parents’ expectation was for me to attend an extremely fundamentalist Christian college simply to get a skill to “supplement my future husband’s income, if necessary,” that expectation was more than what many of my female peers at church had, and I’m grateful for it. And, unlike many homeschooling families in our circles, my mom also put in the necessary work to make sure I wouldn’t encounter any roadblocks on my way from homeschool high school to college–she made a very professional-looking and detailed high school transcript that included my GPA, she signed me up for the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam) so that I could have a legal high school diploma, and she made sure that I took the SAT.

Still, it took me three years after graduating from homeschool high school before I began to pursue higher education. Years and years of severe isolation had not emotionally or socially prepared me to deal with the world outside my home. Years of listening to sermons about the evils of the outside world had left me terrified to leave the “shelter” of my home, even though my home life consisted of nothing more than broken family relationships and debilitating depression during those years. Years of heightened spiritual sensitivity had also paralyzed me with no sense of direction in life, waiting for a sign from God about what to do with my life, terrified of making a mistake.

With no end in sight, the darkness of those years gradually increased my sense of desperation until it was finally enough to overcome my inertia. I decided to be a moving vehicle that God could steer, and I would simply make the best decisions I could until I heard from him. I started taking a full load of classes at my local community college a few months later.

I entered my classes confident in my academic ability. Thanks to my mom’s willingness to administer yearly standardized tests and my scores from the SAT, I knew that I was an above-average student. As I expected, I performed well on tests and got great grades.  But I had other college struggles that caught me off guard. For instance, I was used to simply reading textbooks for the info I needed, so I had no idea how to take good notes in class, and my handwriting and rushed spelling looked like a child’s. In class, I’d get distracted occasionally by hearing the pronunciation of words that I had only ever seen on paper and had been saying wrong in my head for years. I sometimes had questions, but no idea about the etiquette of asking questions during the lecture.  Additionally, my teachers were surprisingly fond of group work, something that I had no experience with, and I was at a loss as to how to collaborate or give/receive feedback.

But for me, the worst thing of all was my discomfort with myself, my body, my existence. While everyone around me seemed to just plop down easily on any available floor space or chair in order to study and eat and chat, I simply couldn’t do it. I could never relax and be at ease where there was even a chance I might be seen by another person, and attempts to talk with others left me breathless and sweaty, with my heart racing.  At this time in my life, I couldn’t even eat in front of another person–not because of an eating disorder, but because of anxiety. The pressure of eating and chatting at the same time made me physically shake, because I had only really experienced eating silently together with my family, and we never had people over for meals. Because of these issues, I couldn’t handle being on campus for a second longer than necessary. For breaks between classes, I would sit in my car or drive home and come back just in time for the next class. The stress of being in public and being surrounded by people was too much.

But over time, my continued practice and effort started to have positive effects. As I went into my second semester in community college, I wasn’t constantly teetering on the edge of panic, and I started to notice positive things happening despite my social stress. People around me didn’t seem bothered by me. People sat by me in class. People smiled at me. People tried to talk to me. I started to feel a spark of human connection and see that people could be kind and decent even when they didn’t share my beliefs and even when they had no agenda and nothing to gain from it. It confused me because it didn’t fit the narrative I grew up with, but it also gave me a vague sense of hope about the life I might be able have as an adult out on my own.

Meanwhile, I was ramping up to transfer to a conservative Christian university far from home, in a place where I didn’t know a single person. It sounds like a big deal, except that I really had almost nothing that I was leaving behind–really, just one close friend that I had made several years before and that I’d been able to confide in, a person who was similarly sheltered and homeschooled. The thought of a fresh start somewhere was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. I figured that the culture of the Christian university campus would feel at least a little familiar, and that having my own room on campus to hide in would be a welcome relief. I made sure to request an international roommate so that my weirdness–my odd clothing style, my poor conversational ability, and my nearly-total ignorance of my peer group’s slang, movies, music, etc.–wouldn’t be as obvious.

In the environment of gender-segregated dorms, no alcohol, no sex, no drugs, and no dancing, there wasn’t too much around me to shock me at my Christian university. Instead, it was the little things that made life challenging. One of my daily challenges was dealing with the shared dorm bathroom, where there were always at least a couple other people milling around. Even though it was set up so that there was no need for public nudity, I didn’t have any idea how to pee or shower in a shared space. I couldn’t stand around casually wrapped in a towel doing my hair and makeup and chatting with the other girls, not a chance. I couldn’t even pee while other people were listening.  This was a completely foreign experience to me and one that took me months to get used to.

For the first semester, my life on campus consisted of going to class, doing homework in my room, and hanging out in my room, which was luckily often empty since my Chinese roommate, despite having just arrived in the country, already had a life and friends. It sounds like a recipe for homesickness, but this is something that I never experienced the whole time I was in college. Instead, I was the happiest I’d ever been (really, it was just that I was less severely depressed, but at the time it felt like happiness in comparison to the previous years). Even though I had no idea about how to connect with the other girls in my dorm and was too anxious to really try, I saw that they were nice people and I felt like the future was full of possibilities.

Things started to change after a few months, thanks to a couple good dorm events that brought me out of my room. This proved to be just enough for one of the outgoing girls in the dorm to seek me out later and start to pry into my little closed-clam-shell of a life. Friendship with just one outgoing person in the dorm served as a bridge to making more connections and boosted my confidence to attend other school events. Although at first I just drifted along trying not to cause anyone any trouble by having opinions or problems, during the next few years I was able to start figuring out more about who I was, what my interests were, and where my place in the social scene of life was.

Figuring out my place in life turned out to be much more complicated than simply getting past the worst of my anxiety though. Even though I was several years older than my dormmates and classmates, I had years of catching up to do, learning about things like cliques, gossip, power dynamics, the art of self-deprecation/teasing/complimenting, and how people seem to group themselves based on life habits, clothing choices, and hobbies. It’s hard to explain, but I simultaneously felt I was decades older than my peers, and also much much younger, which meant that I either felt like I was taking someone under my wing or basking in their glory. I had no idea how to connect to someone as an equal, and I didn’t even start to learn that until I was about to graduate from college.

Looking back now at my transition from homeschool to college life over a decade ago, I feel a sense of pride in how much I grew and changed in a few short years. I finished college able to relax in class and chat comfortably with friends. I no longer hid away in my room all the time. I stretched myself. I attended dorm events. I cheered with enthusiasm at sports games. I worked out at the school gym. I went to parties. I dated. I asked out a guy. I got away with breaking the campus rules about gender segregation and alcohol. Years of pushing through my anxiety paid off, and I finished college feeling ready to tackle life and live on my own as a working adult.

Given my set of issues, I can’t imagine how I would have transitioned to adulthood any other way. The most important things I learned in college were not academic, but instead life and social skills that paved the way for me to have a satisfying life today.

Dreaming of a Way Out: Mina’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Mina” is a pseudonym.

Lucky for me, I attended a parochial school from 1st through fifth grade. I loved it. I loved my friends, learning, the teachers—everything about school thrilled me.

However, at the age of ten, after my parents had fallen under the spell of a religious group associated with the Branch Davidians, and they moved my sister and I out of the state and into a single-wide trailer in a very rural area of the country.

We were isolated. And we were homeschooled for the rest of our education, save for one year when a number of the “cult parents” banded together to pay a fellow-follower to teach seven of the children in a spare bedroom.

We were a true homeschooling Christian family. We wore long skirts. We didn’t cut our hair. The men wore beards. It was a miserable existence.

However, I always found hope in the idea that I would turn 18 and could leave.

I longed for a real education, and since I had gone to a normal school for the first five years, I knew what the real world was like.

But the longer we were involved in the movement, the more socially awkward I became during the limited social interaction we had with “the worldly people” we encountered at church, in stores, etc.

As I recall, around age 16, my mother mostly gave up homeschooling.

My mom went into a severe depression, and I don’t recall any sort of structure related to my education. Somehow though, I figured out I needed a GED, and I somehow got a GED study book and figured out where I needed to go to take the tests. I spent long hours in the night studying for my GED. I had no one to teach me and no guidance, so it’s kind of amazing that I figured out what I needed to do to pass it.

My father was a very controlling man and did not believe girls needed education, so my parents were of no help in the GED process. Mostly I studied in secret so as not to anger my very controlling father.

Once I had completed my GED (around age 17) I wasn’t sure what the next step should be.

I had heard one of the other followers talking about her niece who was going to a proprietary technical school. It sounded like a way out, and I asked her for the address of the school. I secretly wrote the school and managed to intercept all the mail addressed to me from the school. You can imagine my parents surprise when two individuals from the school showed up at our doorstep to sign me up.

I think my parents were so dumbfounded that a month after I turned 18, I left home to attend the proprietary school.

I had written a church in the area seeking a place to stay and ended up living in the home of another religious family. But it was less religious, and I could finally breathe. But that’s when the trouble started with my parents – constant calls and letters. Guilt. It was a loss of control for them, so the pressure to return was enormous.

I led a double life. None of the girls in the technical school knew my background. Thinking back, I think most of the girls came from rough backgrounds (they weren’t university material so they ended up in technical school), so my oddness didn’t seem so odd to them. They all had troubles of their own. But for me, who had no idea about the differences between a technical school or a private university, it was an amazing (albeit very expensive) year of “college.”

While it was a technical school, it was VERY hard for me. I would go to school early in the morning to practice things like typing (which everyone else knew), then go to my PT job before coming back to school.

Keeping up was hard – I had no context for the things I was being taught, and I really struggled.

The computers were out of my league and very challenging, since I had never been exposed to a computer.

At graduation (it was a year-long program), my parents put a great deal of pressure on me to return home. They told me the Lord had told them I needed to return, and it became unbearable. While I had no interest in returning home, the guilt was too much, and I did return home and found a job. Once again, I had to lead a double life – behaving one way at work and another way at home. After about nine months, I couldn’t stand it. My parent’s had become very controlling, and I knew I had to escape.

I had met a person who was going to a religious college in TN. I had no way of knowing about other colleges so I determined, once again, to secretly apply. I applied and was accepted. It was a four year religious university. I was beyond thrilled and looking forward to moving away and having a new life.

But my parents disagreed, and in a shocking act of violence (that led to the arrest and conviction of my father), they prevented me from moving.

More shockingly, I had the strength to get the police involved, and this ended up opening a few doors for me. I learned about community college and enrolled. But I was lost. I went to the guidance counselors, but they seemed out of their depth in dealing with someone who had no frame of reference for education. I muddled my way through one year before I quit and went to work full time as a secretary, all the while taking an occasional community college class here or there.

But secretly, I had a dream to become a lawyer. I had never met a lawyer, nor did I have any idea how to get to law school. But that little secret dream kept driving me. And I figured out how to apply to state universities. As I recall, since I had no grade or SATs, the university took me on as a special case. But there was so much I didn’t know, and the first two years were miserable. I felt so dumb.

I just didn’t know the basics that most people learn in high school.

Like math. I simply had no math education, and the college sent me to special high school classes to take math. I had no idea what anyone was talking about most of those first two years of university and, I made no friends. It was a foreign world – from the literature that was read to the science classes. I have no idea how I made it through – but I did. And I managed to graduate with a degree in journalism.

I eventually did find my way to law school.

And while I was older and not as socially awkward, it was still incredibly difficult for me. While other people seemed to know the basics of the constitution and how to research, I had no such skills, and I had to spend extra money hiring tutors to help me. But what I lacked in book skills, I made up for in zealous representation. I knew first-hand what it meant to be the underdog, and I knew how to fight for these people.

I’m now a partner in a large firm, and no one has any idea about my background. When other partners scoff at community college or state universities as being such bad schools, it stings, especially when I recall how difficult it was for me.

Homeschooling gave me no skills. It left me without a framework from which to understand the world’s social cues or even how to learn.


• Experiences with socialization: When you stepped foot onto your college campus, did you realize you were (as many parents argue) well-socialized already? Or did you realize that you were not (and that those many parents misunderstood the meaning of socialization)? What sorts of difficulties (if you did experience difficulties) regarding social interactions and interpersonal communication did you have to deal with?

During the first year of college, I attended a technical school. Because it wasn’t a true college in the ordinary sense of the word, and the demographic that attended tended to be those who came from lower socio-economic backgrounds or who had not done well in school and couldn’t get accepted into a traditional university, I was able to bond fairly quickly with these people. Because they came from situations of poverty and often, domestic violence, we all seemed to have a common understanding that we were the “misfits” and this understanding created the basis for strong friendships.

However, following the year of technical school, I attended a state community college and then a state university, and finding friends and interacting with other students did not go well for me in these educational settings. My peers were often from (at least it seemed to me) affluent backgrounds. They knew things and had experiences I knew nothing about. I was scared so much of the time and made very few friends. I recall a group singing the tune for the game show “Jeopardy.” I hadn’t been exposed to TV, so I didn’t know what they were singing. When I asked, one of the students sighed and asked whether I had grown up under a rock? Indeed, that’s how I felt – I had grown up under a rock, completely devoid of normal social interaction. I had been taught to fear “worldly people,” and figuring out how to talk with “sinners” left me puzzled.

Interestingly, of the friends I did make during my university years, almost all were Asian immigrants, and even today, many of my closest friends are immigrants. I think my homeschooling and religious background was similar to the experience of immigrants who come to America. None of us were familiar with the traditional American culture. In a sense, I, like the immigrants, had grown up eating food, wearing clothing, and holding a cultural belief system that was not part of the traditional US culture – a culture that was as foreign to the immigrants as it was to me.

Experiences with diversity: If college was the first time you had significant interaction with people of diverse backgrounds (atheist, non-Christian, Buddhist, gay, lesbian, trans*, people from different cultures or ethnicities than you, etc.), what was that like? Did you have any stereotypes in your mind about those people that were deconstructed?

Interestingly, while college really was the first time I was exposed to individuals who were different than me, I was surprisingly very accepting of these people. Because my life had been so sheltered in terms of interacting with “worldly people,” I had no frame of reference. And because my parents avoided all sexual conversations, we never discussed lesbians or homosexuals and I don’t know that I even knew anything about diversity in terms of sexual orientation. Lucky for me, my first ten years of life were spent in a fairly normal way, and in a state that was very diverse, so my experience with racial diversity had been positive and I think actually helped me gravitate to the immigrants who attended school.

• Experiences with academics: If you went to a secular college or a “liberal” Christian college, did you go thinking it would be a battleground for your soul? Was it? Were they any surprises you faced about how the college and its other students treated you?

While I initially had internal conflicts about giving up my religious beliefs (or at least the beliefs I had been forced to pretend to accept) it was actually (and surprisingly) quite easy for me to walk away from Christianity. I immediately began wearing makeup and jewelry (forbidden in my religious home). I did not have any real wrestling in terms of the direction of my soul or whether I needed to convert others. I don’t know how I escaped all that – I think I was just old enough (10) when my parents got into the cult that I already had a strong enough sense of self to see the ridiculousness of my parent’s new found beliefs.

• Experience with studies: Were there any topic matters that you excelled at, that you didn’t think you would? Did you realize your homeschooling education was actually pretty well-rounded, or did you realize it was severely lacking in certain areas?

My homeschooling was severely lacking and I struggled throughout college in every subject save psychology. Psychology came easy. Math, economics, literature, science – none of it was relatable. I had such a poor education, I didn’t know the basics. I didn’t know geography. I knew nothing and I literally had to fake my knowledge. And study very hard-which was tough because I hadn’t ever really been taught to study either. I hadn’t been exposed to world events. I hadn’t been exposed to books except religious books. I knew nothing about the world around me.
It was tough. I remember the professors seemed at a loss as to what to do with me – I tried so hard, but so often my grades were so poor. Somehow I muddled though – figuring out the answers but never really understanding the context because I didn’t understand the world in which I was living.

• Experiences with your parents: Did your parents support your enrollment in college? Did you have to fight with them to be able to go? Were they eager to help you get financial aid? Or did they withhold necessary documents?

My parents hated the idea of college. They saw no reason for a woman to go to school and they provided no support whatsoever – they had controlled my every movement before I went to college and the loss of control was very hard for them. They sent me long letters filled with scripture and prayers for my soul.

My parents had some strange beliefs about the government and hence had not applied for a social security card for me. When I knew I was going to go to college, I got a job at a farm picking strawberries. The employer wanted to know my social security number – which of course, I didn’t have. Somehow I managed to apply for the card and the resulting fury from my parents (specifically my father) was terrible and very frightening. Their fury (when I decided to go to college) actually led to their acting in a significantly violent manner that resulted in the police being involved.

How I Learned to Pregame (and Other Transitions): Casey’s Story

There are certain things you expect on move-in day: The frantic in-and-out of your new neighbors transferring mountains of luggage from car to dorm room, being forced to repeat your name and hometown fifty times before sunset, excited hellos and heartfelt goodbyes. The faint whir of your pathetically small desk fan, which accomplishes little as the room fills with people and the last of the summer heat sets in. Getting to know your first roommate. Talking nervously, hoping you’ll click. Your parents making friends with her parents. Delaying the tearful moment when you hug your mom and dad and watch them drive away. Then, the moment comes. For every new college student, it comes. You are prepared. It is expected.

Mine was not.

“You don’t have to do this.” I’m not sure what possessed my mother to say these words, though I confess I wasn’t that surprised. Her eyes welled up with tears, and she did not let go of me. “You could come home and try community college. We could pack the car up right now. You don’t have to do this.”

I knew that as far as the infamous “college goodbyes” go, this was a bit on the extreme side, especially as I was positive that she meant it. Even having earned a full scholarship to my college of choice, therein saving us about $70,000 worth of financial burden, I was made aware from the start that if at any point I did not like it, I could drop out and be welcomed home. This, coming from the woman who raised me from infancy and schooled me for all of my life, both comforted me and stung the pride a little.

When I was four years old, all I could talk of was starting school. Having taught myself to read a year prior, I was already drawing my own comic books and writing short narratives to go along with them. I could count pretty high, and I thirsted for more, as much as my little mind could absorb. My parents decided the best option was for my mom to homeschool me, and through all of elementary, middle, and high school, she did – taking a strong role as teacher at first, and then letting me take more initiative as I grew older. She took note of my interests and chose curriculum based on that – for instance, my senior year I had an English textbook centered on The Lord of the Rings. It was a very “personalized” experience, tailored just to my unabashedly nerdy self. My mom put everything she had into properly educating me, to the extent that there was no privacy or separation between us. We were always together.

There was very little that I did without her, and almost nothing I possessed that was entirely my own.

We went to church and to bi-weekly homeschool meetings, from which I gained a total of three friends. Though I never felt unfulfilled in my schooling and excelled at most things I ventured to try, I was devastatingly lonely as a teen. Growing up in the most stereotypical of small, Southern towns, I had next to nothing in common with most of the other kids, who ridiculed my quirky personality and interest in books. My only release was in writing, which I did alone and often. To create brought me joy, and it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I discovered a means of sharing that creativity with others: theater. And all of a sudden, I knew what my major would be.

It seemed cruel irony that less than a year after meeting the first genuine group of friends I ever had, I would have to leave them behind. That small community theatre was the outlet I desperately needed, and in my seventeen-year-old mind I was leaving the only place I would ever feel accepted. To tell the truth, my mom’s offer was a little bit tempting. Still, beyond a shadow of a doubt I knew my answer.

“I do,” I said, hugging her tightly. “I have to do this.”

So I did.

And it was the absolute time of my life.

The first week was the hardest. We were scheduled from day to night with festive activities to welcome the new freshmen – ice cream socials, mud volleyball, “get-to-know-you” circle games complete with constant regurgitation of everyone’s name and hometown – basically my school’s method of keeping us too busy to miss home. All it really accomplished for me was allowing no time to unpack; though I did make a few good friends fairly quickly, many of whom will probably be my bridesmaids if I ever decide to do the whole marriage thing. Still, when the first weekend came around, I visited home and found that it felt much different than I expected it to. Actually, it felt just like that – a visit.

My mom called to check in with me at least twice a week for a long time, and when my first assignment came around, she was more nervous than I was. “Let me proofread it,” she insisted. So, I put my all into this miniscule, two-page paper for English Comp 1 – the easiest paper no freshmen realize they will ever have to write – and let her have one more say in the quality of my scholastic work. With her approval, I turned it in expecting a C+ or a B at most.

I got an A+.

This baffled me. Yes, I had always made good grades in the past, but those were from my mother. Every mother thinks her kid is the best and the brightest; this was my first experience receiving praise from a teacher who wasn’t obligated to give it. In time, I found that other teachers, as well as peers, found me intelligent and hard-working, an overachiever even. In reality I pushed myself harder at first because I expected to come up short.

With no real world experience with which to compare my level of knowledge, I had no idea I was actually smart until I went to college and realized that I could do this on my own.

I had, in fact, been thoroughly prepared. And on that foundation my confidence started to grow exponentially.

Soon after, I became more integrated into the theatre department and the honors college, and started making a lot of friends in a short span of time. I even caved and pledged a social club, which is my school’s version of a mini-sorority, only smaller, cheaper, and exclusive to the campus. The extent of my book smarts became as apparent as my lack of street smarts. I can still remember my first experience with alcohol (as can my social club sisters, as they like to remind me every chance they get): When asked to “pregame” with them one Friday night, I brought over a curling iron and makeup, thinking that term was synonymous with primping before going out (or as I so eloquently put it, “doing each other’s hair and stuff”). They laughed (with me, not at me, which was nice), shook their heads and handed me my first drink. In hindsight, I would have been an easy one to manipulate, humiliate, take advantage of…any and all of the above. But these friends weren’t like that. It was simple: We had fun together, I cared for them, and they cared for me. On multiple occasions they took care of me. And words could not describe how lucky I felt or how much I appreciated every positive relationship I had with my peers. They also appreciated my incessant Hobbit references, which was a definite plus.

One thing I’ve noticed with homeschoolers is that, once given the option of becoming social, they will remain in their comfortable shell, or they will eagerly break free. My parents had taught me all I needed to know about socializing myself, and I was ready. I knew that I should be quick to show kindness, but slow to trust. To take note of who would lift me up and who would tear me down. To probably wait on the dating thing, but always “protect” myself if I decided to do it anyway. Oh, and to keep a can of wasp spray in my dorm room, because unlike pepper spray, “they won’t see that coming!” With all this in mind – and the wasp spray in its designated spot on my bedside table – I became something of a social butterfly. And as someone who suffers from Social Anxiety, I really surprised myself on that one.

I’d always wanted to branch out and find others that I could feel comfortable with.

And after going without for so long, I doubt that will be something I’ll ever take for granted.

I should establish that my campus is well-known for being extraordinarily friendly and open to all, which is a significant portion of why our alumni base is so active and supportive: For me, and for countless others, this small liberal arts college was not just a place of education but a tight-knit community, even a home. Differences of race, religion, culture, gender identity, and sexual orientation created very few divides – we were all family. And it was incredible.

This may sound like a paradox, but I was raised a Progressive Christian in a very Fundamentalist Christian church. The Fundamentalist faith was what my parents knew and understood, so they took me to church every Sunday, where I would sit silently (like a good female) and agree with about half of what was preached to us. Politically and socially, both mom and dad were quite liberal. They raised me to love and accept everyone equally, yet college gave me my first experience with true diversity. For instance, I had never met a transgender person before, and though I had spent many a Sunday morning listening to the same “we are right, they are wrong” speech behind the same pulpit, I had never experienced real, enlightening discourse regarding religion. Here, I could actually learn from other people with a wide variety of backgrounds.

My own beliefs, both spiritual and political, developed and took concrete form.

Though I started out Progressive, I grew more so, and I held on to my faith with a better understanding of what it should signify: Love. Not judgment, never exclusion. Just love.

With each new year of school I made leaps and bounds in my personal growth, learning so much about myself in such a short span of time that from sophomore to junior to senior year, it was like becoming a whole new person four times. Developing “street smarts,” and with them my own personal tastes and interests. Becoming more cultured through experience and associations. Swearing when angry, and not feeling bad about it. I like to think of it as making up for lost time.

But not all answers would come with ease. As graduation grew closer, I grew more unsure of what I wanted to do after. A general theatre degree carries with it a wider range of possibilities than one might think: Did I want to act, or paint sets? Research plays, or try to publish my own? Following an internship in stage lighting, I found my answer. And that began my first ever mental switch from school world to career world.

As it turned out, pushing myself so hard in classes had caused me to neglect some things that I would really need once school was over. The theatre department saw me as “honors student first, theatre major second,” which I realized was true, and not, in the bigger scheme, a great thing.

I was thankful for my generous scholarship and wanted to prove myself: “Get good grades,” in my homeschooled head, was always going to be the goal.

But what my parents didn’t know to warn me about was that being a successful theatre technician has little to do with grades and everything to do with hands-on experience. My GPA was near perfect, yet I was a senior by the time I had finally declared my emphasis in lighting design. It took nearly all four years to earn the full respect of the other theatre majors, who understood what it took me regrettably longer to grasp: that we were there to pursue a career and one requiring not a 4.0 and honors cords but a remarkable tech portfolio. I had a lot of catching up to do in that respect.

Now that I’ve been out of college for over a year, I do regret that lost time. But, in continuation of the habit, I’ve made up for it as best I can. Once my brain was able to shift from school to career mode, it became my passion. I travel often for work now, something I’ve always dreamed of doing. I go to the mountains, to tropical regions, theme parks, the Big Apple, once a Tony-winning regional theatre, doing what I love every step of the way. I think back on my lonely years in that small town and wonder if I would have the same appreciation for the incredible things I get to see and do had I not been contained there for so long.

Though in a considerable many cases homeschooling can be a terrible idea, I see my personal story as a successful one. Not perfect, by any means, as I was heavily sheltered and limited mostly to my mom’s perspective. Luckily for me, this also meant that I got to learn from a strong, intelligent and open-minded woman whom I will always look up to, and that made all the difference. Though I had a lot still to learn once I got to college, very little of it was learned “the hard way.”

Because on that first move-in day, when I made the decision to stay, the decision to see life as a new adventure came along with it.

I guess I’m kind of like Bilbo Baggins. And college was my Gandalf.