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Universities and the American Dream: A Five Year Retrospective

Illustration for article titled Universities and the American Dream: A Five Year Retrospective

I like to consider myself a good student. I always have; after all, I was salutatorian of my high school, got an Associates of Science in Mathematics a week before my diploma, and got an internship at NASA after slaving away on various robotics teams for most of my primary education. For three years after high school, as far as anyone knew, that still was true. I was getting good grades at the University of Houston’s College of Engineering while maintaining a decently popular Tumblr and trying to be an active member of this community. As far as anyone cared, I was still enrolled in school and set to graduate in 2014.


What most people didn’t know at the time was that I’d been kicked out of the College of Engineering with a 1.7 GPA in my second semester. I spent two years sitting in the library playing Minecraft, watching Achievement Hunter videos and talking to the denizens of TAY and Tumblr. I lied through my teeth, to everyone, even people online. I never told the truth; my family found out when it took too long to receive my diploma and my grandfather, the associate dean of the College of Technology at UH, pulled my records. All hell broke loose. I deleted my Tumblr, Twitter and a few others, and left a goodbye note to you.

I’m pretty blessed. My mother was very disturbed by my lying, but both of my parents realized that something was wrong with me, that didn’t deserve punishment. They treated me like an adult, and helped me get a job at Fry’s. I applied to UT Arlington and moved to Fort Worth with my father, who had to move there for work anyways, transferring from the Webster Fry’s to the Arlington location. Within a semester, I had a job as a mechanical engineering intern at the industrial motor company SEW Eurodrive. In my second year, I became the historian for our chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, though by my fourth semester, my GPA had dropped to a 3.27 thanks to two moves, 20 hours of work on top of school, juggling trips to Houston and an attempt to balance school life with actual extracurricular fun. Now, I’m the president of our ASME chapter, captain of our Battlebots team, a mere 19 hours from graduation, and on track to start my Masters.


In the process, I’ve learned some thing about school, work, mental health and our generation. In high school, I was told that without college, I was nothing. Success meant an education, even if you had to go into debt, and grades were everything. But they aren’t. When I went internship hunting, no one gave a flying rat’s posterior about my tenure at UH. They saw my previous internships and that I was currently working retail while going to school, and that said it all.

The American Dream, in my opinion, is the ability to achieve your own measure of success on your own terms. So many people push us back and forth to fit a specific mold, when sometimes that’s just not right. I needed to not go straight into college, and work retail for a bit. Some people can handle going straight in while others shouldn’t go to college at all. I don’t know how to change this, but I do know something is broken, and I’m eternally grateful that I somehow made it through.


The hardest hump was definitely depression. It’s something that seems impossible to get through, and even more difficult to help fix in someone else. I’m still not really over it. I have flashbacks and moments of despair where it seems nothing will get better. The only thing that kept me going was the mantra “Keep Moving Forward” and starting to do my own hobbies. There’s no real textbook solution for depression, but having a support network seems to be the most helpful thing you can do.

I’m finally in a better place, and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. My childhood dreams are mostly dead, but I’m not, and I have new dreams and goals to strive after. If you take anything from this slightly-tipsy stream of conscious, take this: anyone can bounce back, but it really helps to have help. Don’t be afraid to ask like I was. More often than not, it takes a team to really achieve your dreams.

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