My time in high school
Attended high school in the
Overall high school experience
3/10. I was depressed and angry for almost the entirety of my brief tenure at [high school name omitted], so that colors the memory a bit. To be fair, not all of that was due to high school per se, but I would be lying if i said it didn't play an enormous role. If someone wants you to live your life a certain way, and you disagree with them, no amount of encouragement, gentle persuasion, or IEP meetings is ever going to make it not feel like a prison. Which, if you read Foucault, is not an unjust comparison.
Grades in high school
C's and below. It was never that I didn't like to learn. I just liked learning at my own pace, and had a fundamental disagreement with the school over the value of pretty much any evaluative or assessment method, full stop. So based on the fact that I didn't turn in homework, didn't do well on tests (often intentionally), and probably seemed like the least attentive student in class; sure, I think my C's and F's were well-deserved.
History / Social Studies
I struggled with almost every subject equally, in that I always felt trapped by the limitations of the classroom itself. I learn best by experience, and I simply wasn't having any that I felt were nourishing my soul. I'm sorry if that sounds new-agey, but how best to describe it? I honestly can't remember the majority of what I learned in middle and high school, and I feel wiser, more alive, and more enriched for it. The only person I remember getting it right was [teacher name omitted]. I know people sing his praises a lot, and he deserves every word of it. He made learning experiential, by creating a world that I could climb inside, play around in, pick out the pieces I wanted and throw away the ones that didn't make sense. He truly allowed agency for his students; took our minds seriously. I think his class was the only 'A' I ever received, and that's saying something.
[Teacher's] reenactments. Thanks, teach.
Life since high school
Attended college / university at
After dropping out, I worked for a few years until I realized there were some things I wanted to learn that I couldn't do on my own. So I went to a community college and then transferred to a UC where I did a bachelor's in film studies.
Post-graduate education or training
Currently in a PhD program at a fancy Ivy League which I malign daily. Basically, I'm a big sellout. Sue me.
Places lived in US
California, Massachusetts, New York
Places lived outside the US
A whole bunch of countries all over the world.
Current occupations / past occupations
I've been a journalist, a video store clerk, a director of a non-profit, a wedding photographer, a volunteer at shelters and community gardens, and a teacher (yes, irony).
By far the most satisfying job I ever had was being a server at a little cafe/wine bar in NYC. I think it should be absolutely mandatory that any young person, especially those that come from wealth, should work at a restaurant at some point. We seem to think volunteering is the most important thing a young person can do to build a sense of service or empathy. But I feel like there's no more humbling experience than living off tips that you share with the kitchen. Plus, as a bonus, it teaches you how to be a better guest. 20% or bust, you cheapskates.
Industries I've worked in
- Other Services (except Public Administration) (e.g. Repair, Salon, Political/Labor orgs, etc.)
- Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation
- Health Care and Social Assistance
- Educational Services
- Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services (e.g. Law, Accounting, Interior Design, Graphic Design, R&D, PR, Advertising, etc.)
- Information (e.g. Publishing, Film, Broadcast, Telecommunications, Libraries)
Did your education prepare you for your career or occupation?
Not whatsoever. I'm not going to claim that I "made myself", only that most of the skills and wisdom that's allowed me to create the kind of world I want to live in came from other places.
Has your education or career/occupation trajectory ever changed? How?
Constantly. Now, this is where privilege plays the key role. I was extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to experiment during my early years without needing to support anyone else, or worry about ending up on the street, not to mention consistently benefiting from my identity and upbringing. This is something that most people in the world simply cannot afford to do. And I would be truly remiss if I didn't devote my life to seeing that change, which I'm trying to do.
A little introspection...
To me, being successful means...
I feel nothing but contempt and frustration toward the use of words like "success" and "failure" being introduced to adolescents. I've always had a huge problem with the idea that from a very young age, I'm supposed to measure my self-worth by my ability to "get stuff done", whether that means fulfilling my own goals or those of someone else. And while this frustration emerged mostly out of a youthful nihilism that I'm beginning to think is endemic to Palo Alto kids, it became even more emboldened as the years went on and I realized a vast amount of my time in the Palo Alto School District was spent disciplining my body and mind rather than liberating my spirit.
People will tell you that there are things you "need" to do to survive in this world, that you have to play the game because you don't want to end up like "them". Don't listen. Your youth is precious. Don't waste it worrying about someone else's idea of "success".
My definition of success has changed not over time.
My greatest accomplishment to date and what I’ve learned from it
Dropping out of [high school]. It allowed me to pick up whatever scraps of individuality that I still had and scrape together an identity that I feel mostly proud of today.
My biggest mistake or regret so far and what I’ve learned from it
Actually believing my teachers who, when I reached middle school, convinced me that paying attention in class was more important than climbing trees. I missed out on a lot of great trees, and I think about that all the time.
An unexpected event that significantly changed my life and how it impacted me
Probably the first time—as a teenager—that I seriously considered suicide. I remember at some point thinking to myself "there is no way any of this BS is worth dying over, so if I really can't survive in this world then I'm going to leave and go make my own somewhere else". And I'm so glad I did. Although I never could have done it without a supportive family who believed in me enough to let me go my own way. That's a hint, Palo Alto alpha parents.
Anything else that you'd like to share that we didn't ask?
Thanks for doing this. I really hope it can help young people realize that there is no rubric for life, and that they should always take their own ideas seriously, even if it leads them in directions that everyone else thinks are insane. It's been said many times, but life too insanely short (you have no idea) to be wasting precious moments of youth on anything but pure joy, curiosity, and authenticity. If you're trapped in a structure that is trying to tell you otherwise, leave immediately. It will be okay.
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My favorite spot in or around Palo Alto
Honestly it's one of my least favorite cities in the world. The Glass Slipper Inn has some character though.