At eighteen years old with a few weeks left before graduation, I’m still learning and I certainly don’t pretend to have everything figured out. One thing that I have come to believe, however, is that we never stop learning. I’m not talking about the typical view of education that teenagers have, memorizing vocabulary lists and practicing the quadratic equation, but real education. For the longest time, I thought that the instruction I got at school was all I needed to make it in life. I had been told since I was put in the G.A.T.E. program in the second grade that if I studied hard enough and got enough A’s I could go to an Ivy League school. Then I could make enough money to afford the white picket fence, four acres, a dog and 2.5 kids. I thought that school was the only thing that really mattered as far as my future was concerned. Until about half way through my junior year, all I really did was go to school and come home, maybe with a trip to the movies thrown in every month or so. My parents had always said, “school is your job,” when I mentioned trying to apply for part-time work, so I put it off. I had little or no responsibilities and as a result, I didn’t have to think about things. I floated through school worrying about homework, boys and not much else. Midway through junior year I started hanging out with a new group of people who, as corny as it sounds, changed my life. They didn’t help me find religion or get me addicted to heroin or anything else drastic to cause this change; all they did was be themselves. Suddenly I saw all of the things that were going on in my friend’s lives that changed my perspective. I heard stories of things they’d done and seen and I wanted the chance to experience them for myself. I started to go out and meet people. I jumped at any chance I was given to travel. My parents and my boyfriend encouraged me to finally look for a job. I learned that life shouldn’t be about the size of your house or how high you can inflate your GPA. It should be about experiencing as much as possible and learning everything you can along the way. I believe that learning, real learning, takes place outside the classroom. It comes from new experiences and places. I believe that some of the best teachers are people who don’t have degrees or have even gone to college. Some of the best teachers are just people who happen to have experienced things we haven’t. I believe that learning is not a means to an end, but rather a process that never ends. I believe that school may be useful to learn how to make a living, but since I don’t intend to have my life revolve around my salary, I won’t make school my life.
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