When I dropped out of high school at age 16, I had no idea that Sudbury Valley existed. I just wasn’t going to do what THEY told me to do if I didn’t see a good reason for it. Life is too short to sit in a stuffy classroom taking multiple choice tests on Shakespeare (multiple choice tests! Shakespeare!) when you can take your much more fascinating trigonometry book to the beach and work out the practice exercises by drawing in the sand. The great thing about beach sand trigonometry drawings is that it is easy to erase mistakes and rework a problem. I also secretly enjoyed the bemused looks from the other beachgoers, and the joggers trying to dodge the trig problems when they realized what they were running over.
So I never got that high school diploma. I did a whole bunch of other great things instead, never needed the diploma, didn’t miss it at all, never regretted the decision to drop out, and was kind of proud to be this quirky high school dropout who was successful and happy without ever having checked that unimportant little box that everyone thinks is so important to check off.
As I was reading through this little book of theses we received in the mail (I’m now a SudVal parent), it occurred to me that there must be tremendous value in the introspective process of thinking about and writing and revising and defending the thesis. Then I found myself considering the things that the diploma candidates thought were important, identifying with some and not so much with others. I then started wondering how I had prepared myself to be an effective adult. What would I include in my own thesis if I were to write one? Why not write one just for my own benefit? And if I were to write such a thesis for myself, why not actually attend SudVal for a few years, write the thesis, and finally earn a high school diploma? It’s crazy, but why not? It’s no crazier, I suppose, than a high school dropout with a reading disability earning a law degree from one of the most prestigious and challenging law schools in the country.
I had heard that Sudbury Valley sometimes admitted adults. I wouldn’t want to intrude on my daughter’s space, so if I were to enroll it would have to be after she left Sudbury Valley. Is there an age maximum? Elaine has told me that they sometimes enrolled three year olds “if they were mature enough.” Would they consider enrolling a 30-something year old if she were immature enough? And would it be too weird for me to attend?
But how cool would it be to have a SudVal diploma on my wall, framed and hanging next to that fancy law degree? I daresay that I would be prouder of the SudVal diploma, but don’t tell that to anyone at my law school. They simply wouldn’t understand.
Of course it’s not only about a silly diploma – I do have some academic legal scholarly work that I’d like to research and ponder and write about, and SudVal might be a perfect environment for me to do that. I’ve also always wanted to learn to play the guitar better. And why not the sax? Or the “rock triangle?” I’ve long wanted to learn ancient Greek so I could read Aristotle in his original language. And my tree climbing skills could really improve. Really, there are a million things that I’ve wanted to learn and do, but there are more interesting things to learn and do than there are hours in the day.
It’s a funny thing. I never cared about getting a high school diploma, never wanted one at all. Now for the first time in my life, I kind of want a high school diploma, but only if it is from SudVal.
And then I realized that it was a silly idea. Ever since I had heard about SudVal, I wished that I had been able to attend. My thoughts about attending SudVal and finally earning a high school diploma were simply a reflection of that longing I felt, and the profound disappointment that I hadn’t discovered SudVal sooner. (Although I’m not exactly sure what that 16 year old beach-going California girl would have done if she had learned about SudVal. Probably would have hopped in my car, driven to Massachusetts to check it out, and stayed if I liked it well enough.)
I laughed at myself and told Elaine about my crazy idea. She rolled her eyes and buried her head in her pillow with laughter, telling me the idea was “absurd.” She insisted, “You ARE an effective adult already – why would you want to prepare yourself for something you already are?” I think her question misses something important, though. I don’t think I will ever stop preparing myself to be a more effective adult – that’s part of being an effective adult! So Elaine was both right and wrong. Like all the SudVal students, I do need to continue preparing myself to be an effective adult. But I don’t need to be at SudVal to do that – I can do that anywhere I am, and I will for the rest of my life.
I’ll happily leave that unimportant little “high school diploma” box unchecked. I proudly remain the quirky high school dropout.
My only regret? Never having attended Sudbury Valley. It is too late to change that. I hope that SudVal students appreciate how fortunate they are. I will have a fancy law degree from a prestigious school hanging on my wall, but I will never have a SudVal diploma. Oh well, it is only a piece of paper. The important thing is that I made my own personal Sudbury Valley, and I finally wrote my thesis. The defense was a little rough at times, but overall it went well. Maybe I’ll try again next year.
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