OPINION: It’s time to end the stigma of when people should graduate


Illustration by Stephanie Kircher/The Et Cetera


 The stigma placed upon the specific ways that human beings search for and obtain knowledge desperately needs to change. 

For as long as I can remember, I have had an inherent thirst for knowledge. My personal education, however, turned out very differently than I had planned due to a dance injury that occurred in my early teens and threw me off track.

I entered Booker T. Washington High School as a 16-year-old freshman and graduated as a 20-year-old full-fledged adult alongside my 18-year-old peers who were just beginning to transition into adulthood. 

I grew up believing that education was directly dependent on age, like the rest of the world. In the societal structure that exists, 14-year-olds are freshmen, 15-year-olds are sophomores and so on. I thought that the normal thing to do was the right thing, because I did not know any different. 

However, when my own path changed, I had to abruptly broaden my horizons. I was going into a high school setting where I was significantly older than my classmates and I was breaking the status quo on what the typical American education looked like. 

I had to shift my perception away from the thought process that age directly correlates with where one is at regarding education. This also changed the way that I viewed everything else in my life, as age plays a big part in almost every aspect of life. 

There is a growing issue that society refers to as the dropout crisis, within both high school and college. However, as different as the two institutions are, there is a similarity regarding the declining amount of people who graduate at what is considered the correct time.

This crisis is promoted by the stigma placed upon when and how people should attend school and graduate, and this stigma does not account for extenuating circumstances that do not fit into that structure. 

I walked into my freshman year of high school a full two years older than my peers, with more life experiences and a more developed brain. By my sophomore year I was a legal adult, learning to do my own taxes, and taking on different jobs to generate income. I had very few friends and found myself eating lunch alone.

When my junior year came around, I was ecstatic to find out that there was another student who was only six months younger than I. For the first time in my high school career, I did not feel alone. We did not talk much but knowing that someone else was in a similar position lessened the out-of-place feeling I had always had. 

However, by my senior year, which only lasted a few months before it was taken away due to the pandemic, I was back to feeling alone within the school system. But that did not stop me from graduating at 20 with honors and proving the stigma wrong. 

According to a 2021 study by the Intercultural Development Research Association, the dropout rate for high school students in Texas is estimated to be 1 in 5. 

Although I am proud to not be included in the dropout rate, there is still a stigma attached to those who do dropout, or those who take the same path that I did and graduate later than what is considered normal.

Throughout high school, I was questioned almost every day about my age, situation and where I was going after high school as an adult. And though this did not deter me personally, it is only a small portion of the questioning that students in my position receive every day.

Institutions such as high school and college could lessen the dropout crisis numbers by attempting to eradicate the notion that there is an age limit to education. Nature.com did research on what exactly correlates to academic success in which they wrote: “There has been substantial research into which factors predict academic success, with intelligence historically reported as the strongest predictor,” which further elaborates on the need of destigmatizing age and education. 

If age plays little to no impact on how one learns, which is proven true by myself and my own journey, there needs to be a change in the societal construct that colleges and high schools both uphold so that everyone gets the education that they deserve.

— Grayson Lesley-Milburn is a contributor and a communications major