By James “Ikie” Brooks
Some graduating high school students try to escape going to college. For me, college was my escape.
Growing up, I realized I wasn’t okay with doing nothing after high school, and “after high school” was peering at me before I knew it. As a first-generation college student, I didn’t have a whole lot of influences stressing the importance of a postsecondary education.
During my ninth grade year, I first seriously began working out the details of what “after high school” would mean to me. I knew I wanted to help people, but I wasn’t sure where to begin.
That’s when my support system at my school shined.
Throughout my journey at Scott High School, I was fortunate to have a number of counselors, teachers and peers who pushed me to push myself. As a West Virginia GEAR UP student, I received an extra layer of support from individuals who helped me not only think about college, but get there. I met so many individuals who believed in me – oftentimes more than I believed in myself – and that made all the difference in the world. They helped me understand what college is and how it could change my life.
And it has.
For me, college has been about more than just going to class and taking tests. It’s been about me learning about me. As a typical college freshman, I thought I had it all figured out: I would major in pre-med/biology and become a doctor to help people. But some self-discovery during my time in college made me realize that while I still wanted to help people, I wanted to do so in a different way. That’s when I changed my major to political science/economics. I would have never discovered this career path had it not been for my experience in college.
Throughout high school, I can recall my teachers and counselors stressing the importance of a postsecondary education. It wasn’t until I actually got to college that I realized just how important a college education is—in fact, it’s a necessity, especially here in West Virginia.
Unfortunately, that necessity is not yet our reality. According to statistics from the American Community Survey, only 30 percent of West Virginians hold a college degree. That’s an alarming fact considering that economists at Georgetown University predict that more than half of all jobs in the state will require a college education by 2020.
Many students elect not to go to college because they don’t see the benefit; however, more job opportunities – and in many cases, personal growth opportunities – make the college experience worthwhile. This is why students should be encouraged to explore their postsecondary education options. It can change their lives.
Many students go to college and realize their dreams simply because someone in their lives took it upon themselves to say, “You can.”
And you know what?
I can. I have. And I want to help others do the same.
James “Ikie” Brooks is a junior at Marshall University majoring in political science and economics. He currently serves the GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy (GUALA) to help promote a college-going culture in West Virginia.