Full of expectation on my first day of school. From the beginning I struggled; there was always something more interesting going on outside the window or at the back or in my head. “Gemma is easily distracted” read the reports.
Fast forward 10 years and my over riding feeling about the last two years of school was one of being ‘abandoned’, I was in the lower band. The middle band were being groomed for 6th Form and for the upper it was all about the obvious route to University. Did I get a different experience from my friends in the upper group? The physics teacher made it clear he wasn’t going to learn our names ‘you people’ he called us. I know he learnt the name of every girl in the upper set (I have loads of similar experiences, this is just the one I’m sharing). It quickly become clear they had a future and most of them would be going to University. University wasn’t for people like me, apparently.
I left school just before my 16th birthday with girls who couldn’t read, I’d never read a book the whole way through. In a rare moment of clarity my mother ‘pushed’ me into College, somehow I got in and ‘did’ O’levels including English Literature. I hated all the books (still don’t do ‘Brontes’) but came away with an A (I think the ‘critical’ discussion helped) and the achievement of finishing a book.
Still resisted reading books but I devoured magazines; Bought on the day of publication read them from cover to cover. Company magazine did a feature, I can’t remember the exact title something like ‘50 books to read before you were 30’. 30 seemed ‘old’ so frankly I read it as; ‘books to read before you’re dead’. Company said do it; I did it. Dickens, Evelyn Waugh, Orwell, Graham Greene etc. All read on the train while commuting to various dead end jobs or while on various adventures abroad.
I met some ‘actual’ University students and surprisingly they were not some sort of ‘elite’ super breed as I’d been led to believe (nice, but very drunk and untidy) and a seed was planted. The significant issue was a lack of confidence; I attended an open event at a University and felt physically sick such was my feeling of being out of place.
The long story short, and the significant ‘thing’ for me was volunteering on various community projects, it opened my eyes to another side of life, other peoples lives but also my life and what I was capable of.
I enrolled on a Diploma course and thrived. Took the next step and applied for University. At 30 years old (well read and not dead) I graduated BA Hons 2:1.
Has a degree been useful in my professional life? That’s debatable, certainly by current line manager and equivalent colleague don’t have a degree. Personally, it was a wonderful experience I was exposed to information and learning I probably never would have found on my own and Graduating was a fine moment (stick that in your pipe and choke on it Mr Physics teacher – and yes, I still remember your name).
My hope is that my son will have a better experience of the education system and find his path with confidence.