I Took Four Years off after High School – Graduated at the Top of my University Class

“I don’t regret my years off, nor do I regret any of my minimum wage jobs because they contributed greatly to my wanting to go back to school.” – Me (Cassy Goulding)

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Retrieved from Jennifer Pfeffer.

The topic of high school graduates taking a gap year came up earlier this past spring, as President Obama’s daughter Malia decided to wait before heading to college (See articles from Global News, Huffington Post, and NewsHour). This is an option that may scare parents, but it really shouldn’t.

When I was in high school I thought that I knew exactly what I wanted to do and which post secondary school I would attend. My life centred around the visual arts and I maintained good grades in order to achieve honours for all four years in high school. In both grade 8 and grade 12 I was chosen for the annual ‘Faces of the Future’ acknowledgement that gets published in the local paper. This tradition features bright and promising students and encourages readers to watch for their success in the coming years.

I often laughed at the Faces of the Future mentions that I got as I graduated high school, was accepted into Sheridan College, and finally decided to take some time off from school. I felt that they had made a mistake and that I was not what they had thought I would be, but I think that I’ve still got a chance. My face, body, and mind just took advantage of a longer timeline to get to a future that can make a mother proud.

My parents were really great; I was lucky to have a mom and dad who supported me in everything that I tried in life including taking a break. Other adults frequently told me that my parents shouldn’t have let me take time off after high school because I would never go back to further my education, but they did and I think it was the best decision for me.

I was born in December which means that I started school when I was 3 years old and graduated high school when I was 17. I was not yet old enough to vote, win the lottery, or legally drink – I was barely old enough to have my G2 licence! I was a good kid (with an emphasis on kid) and I wasn’t ready to live on my own and go to school anymore than some of my 18-year-old fellow peers.

The Ontario Academic Credit (OAC), also known as grade 13, was eliminated from the Ontario school systems in 2003 and has left high school graduates one year younger (See Alan Slavan’s article on University Affairs). One year’s difference may not result in drastic maturation of a teen’s brain, however, it could allow for other benefits like saving money, time to plan their future, or even time to realize the importance of an education. This last benefit was the most important one to me personally and I discovered it after almost four years after I graduated high school.

During my four years off I dabbled in attempts at modelling, singing, and I even completed a one-year certificate art program at a local college to keep practised. Mainly, I worked retail and barista jobs which included cleaning public toilets. These were jobs that required a lot of hard work and smiling while serving grumpy customers for very little money.

I don’t regret my years off, nor do I regret any of my minimum wage jobs because they contributed greatly to my wanting to go back to school.

I eventually realized that you often need the credential of a college or university diploma to get decent salary paying jobs these days. I also appreciated the concept of a stable career that provided financial security and health benefits which meant that working as a freelance illustrator was no longer my main career goal.

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Retrieved from Where to Volunteer.

I chose to study communications because it would allow me to bring my creativity into professional settings and outlets. Waiting four years after high school didn’t only allow me to mature a bit more, but at age 21 (22 that December), I entered university with a lot more focus than I would have at 17. I had passed my early years of partying, didn’t waste money on a program that I might have dropped out of, and was able to receive the full benefits of OSAP because I was now considered a mature student.

I just want to tell parents of teenagers to not be afraid of letting them take a break. Remember how stressful it is to be that age and give them a choice in life. The time off post-high school graduation can teach your kids valuable life lessons that they don’t learn in classrooms and could possibly save you money (if you’re able to help pay their tuition of course).

By supporting your teen in their choice to take a gap year (or four), you are helping combat the myth that some parents believe: that youth won’t go back to school if they take a break. What do your kids want to do? Do they know? If not, maybe they need some time to figure things out before coming out on top!

Life Lesson: Everyone has their own unique timeline and shouldn’t be expected to fit into an outdated one. There isn’t one right way to get through life, there are many paths with many different endings.

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My friend Christina and I graduated with two of the top three highest grade averages in our graduating class.

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Strangers I Admired in High School

(See Life lesson at the bottom)

Celebrities play an interesting part in our lives, often times without directly meeting us. They were especially influential to me personally when I was in high school.

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My dreaded grade 9 yearbook photo (Almost 14 years old [December birthday).
For me, I had a select group of actresses, singers, and models who I looked up to, groomed myself to look like, and secretly wanted to be. Some of these resulted in good practices and others resulted in questionable fashion choices. Interestingly enough, high school-me had mostly good taste because I still admire a lot of the same women today that I did then (in a much less obsessive way).

In no particular order, here are the women I admired most from ages 14-18:

-Ella Fitzgerald
-Natalie Portman
-Audrey Hepburn
-Leslie Feist
-Ingrid Michaelson
-Edie Sedgwick
-Twiggy
Agyness Deyn

Since high school, I have transitioned from idolizing to admiring. I also recognize a lot of unfortunate life choices as less than admirable for ‘idols’ like Edie Sedgwick and look back on the time when I loved her as very misguided on my own part. The main issue was that although I respected and adored the talents of a number of these women, I often focused purely on their beauty.

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The many colours of the rainbow that I sported on my head from ages 16-19 (also my best friend Hanna can be seen in many of these photos – met in hockey at age 11).

For someone who took haircut risks in her teen years, I was definitely a wall flower in school. I spent a lot of time in the art classrooms, all my friends were in band even though I wasn’t, and it took years before I sang in public – it also shocks a lot of people that I was shy and very quiet. A lot of my friends were male because of our shared pop culture interests and sense of humour, but I always considered myself to be one of the guys rather than a potential love interest to any of them. I was not popular by any means.

I knew that I wasn’t a typical teenage girl and due to catholic school uniforms I was limited to expressing my personality through avenues other than fashion (I’m an atheist now, but it wasn’t out of bitterness toward the uniforms I swear). This meant that my hair and eventually my makeup were a big deal to me.

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Top to bottom: Twiggy, Edie Sedgwick, and Agyness Deyn.

Lacking confidence and a self-declared tomboy (not a term that I’m a fan of these days), I didn’t do my hair or wear makeup until I was around 15-16 years old. For six years after that, I sported a variety of pixie cuts, had almost no eyebrows, grew my eyebrows back, wore dark 60’s inspired eyeliner, and dyed my hair a rainbow of colours.

 

THE MODELS:

The likes of Twiggy (60’s icon), Edie Sedgwick (60’s icon), and Agyness Deyn (modern model) inspired me to chop all my hair off around 2006 and confidently bleach my brown hair while keeping my dark brows. The realization that hair could grow back quickly when short, that I could do whatever I wanted to it and cut it off again if it looked bad, allowed me to try just about every style I wanted (basically I tried each short hairstyle that Natalie Portman, Keira Knightley, and Winona Ryder ever had).

Twiggy, Edie Sedgwick, and Agyness Deyn didn’t only fuel my desire to make impulsive hair decisions, but also fed the destructive appetite of a low-self-esteem teenager who longed to feel beautiful. These women were skinny like I was and applauded for it, they weren’t ‘typically’ beautiful yet they were famous for their looks. Although their body shapes were unhealthy ideals for myself (I’m not naturally model-height-tall), their being different-looking eventually helped me see my own type of beauty – and for that I thank them.

THE ACTRESSES:

I watched a stupid amount of television and movies that I do not regret one bit. When I was 12 years old I had a crush on Hawkeye Pierce from MASH and Mr. Kotter from Welcome Back Kotter – I found older programs (and men apparently) fascinating.

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Left to right: Characters Hawkeye Pierce and Mr. Kotter.

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As a brunette who grew up in a blonde Barbie world, I didn’t always appreciate my natural hair colour. Society/the media often subtly told us that to be blonde was to be better than other girls. This is why The Beauty and the Beast stood out to me amongst other Disney movies, and why I so easily fell in love with Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Roman Holiday (surprise, surprise, she chops off her hair in that film) – brunettes for the win!

Audrey was the most beautiful and classy woman that I had ever seen. I loved everything about her and she was the positive role model that I needed after Twiggy and the girls. She showed me that my natural beauty was special and that a good personality can make someone much more attractive than their dull counterpart. I still admire Audrey, but know that she had her share of issues and wasn’t as happy as she appeared.

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They look so similar!

I can’t remember which movie I first saw of Natalie Portman’s, but I know that I’ve seen just about everything that she’s been in. I really fell in love with her when I first saw one of my favourite movies Garden State, the scene where she cries in the airport (see scene here) is when I thought “wow, she is a brilliant actress.” She seems like she could be the modern day Audrey Hepburn in resemblance, but she expanded my ideals once more.

Natalie Portman went beyond looks and personality, she taught me that being smart was totally cool. She made time to complete a Harvard Degree in Psychology (see her speak on her time at Harvard during the 2015’s commencement) in the middle of an increasingly successful acting career. I have always been quite the keener and my competitive spirit drove me to want to be the best in all my classes (I’m a bit of a sore loser and hate getting a bad mark). Natalie Portman taught me that intelligence and ambition should not take away from a woman’s beauty – it should add to it.

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THE SINGERS:

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Top to bottom: Ella Fitzgerald, Feist, and Ingrid Michaelson.

Pre pixie-cuts and any belief that fashion was important, I found a female jazz singer. I was 14 years old when I first heard Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Aint Got that Swing in a history class. I loved singing, but hadn’t sang in public since I quit elementary school choir at a young age. I feel as if it was Ella’s collection of jazz songs that convinced me that I wanted to take the vocal class at my high school and really discover my own musical tastes. Chris and I danced to one of my favourites at our wedding, Ella’s version of Cole Porter’s Let’s Do it.

Come grade 11, I had sung with some other students at a make-shift school library event and a friend at the time told me that I sounded similar to a Canadian artist, Feist. It was love at first sight/listen when I watched the video for My Moon My Man; she was everything that I wished that I could be.

Soon after this, iTunes used her song 1234 in a commercial and she was getting wider recognition. Leslie Feist, was unique looking, a private person, she wrote songs that didn’t need to compete with mainstream pop hits, and she was able to live her life as a successful musician. She inspired me to want to be a professional singer (this goal is on a long hiatus).

I began paying closer attention to commercials as I realized that the music they used behind their promotions were frequently up my alley. I found a massive collection of songs from commercials, as well as in the background of television shows and movies that became the soundtrack of the last years of my high school career. This was also how I stumbled upon Ingrid Michaelson’s Girls and Boys album.

Ingrid Michaelson wrote in a new way that I related to, it was quirky, untraditional, and sweet. She is still one of my greatest influences in songwriting style. Ingrid is particularly special because she exceeded my expectations when I saw her in concert. She was talented, but she was funny – so funny. She wore glasses, wrote quirky songs, and told jokes throughout her set.

 

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Left to right: Me graduating from high school in 2008, college in 2010, and university in 2016 (had some years off between academic gigs) – now happier and healthier than ever.

LIFE LESSON:

No woman is perfect, it’s too much to expect of any human being. I think that it’s important to talk about who we admire with younger generations so that we can share insight into recognizing the good and the bad that they might influence.

The society that we live in makes it too easy to fall in line with what celebrities say and do, to act like them, and idolize them so we should incorporate healthy conversations about them into our lives. Looking back, I see a lot of beneficial ideologies that I took from women who were strangers to me, but I wish that I focused less on their beauty and more on what not to do from their mistakes.

All in all, I think that there are a number of female celebrities that are good role models for young women and I hope that teenage misfits like young-me find the right ones.