Diplomas Don’t Define Character

OPINIONS: The real significance of education, and why we don’t need a certificate to be smart. By Itza Lasso-Karner. 

Today’s society views high school diplomas as equal in necessity to a driver’s license. They are essential for most jobs and employers love to see them on a résumé. Graduating on time is greatly encouraged by schools, but what about the students who need extra help? The national graduation rate is about 83 percent. Of those who graduate, 69 percent continue their education in college or other forms of schooling during the fall semester following high school graduation. What happens to people who take gap years? Or students who don’t walk and make up the credits later? Where are the students who dropped out?  Of the 69 percent of students who go to college, only about 59 percent finish and graduate.

When discussing this aspect of the education system, East alumnus Humberto Juarez shared his experience. After a student fails to walk on the graduation stage, they have limited time to get their diploma before it changes in classification to a GED. Humberto took six extra months to catch up on his credits. This means he still received a high school diploma, though he did not walk the stage in his year’s graduation ceremony. Despite this potential setback, he now successfully works in the food industry. Previously an assistant general manager at Noodles and Company, he is currently working his way up the ranks at the Cheesecake Factory as a cook.  

“I had no idea what I would go to college for.”

Though he is a bright and hardworking person, Humberto lacks the “book knowledge” and skills to perform well on tests. When asked why he needed the extra time to get enough credits, his reply is simple. He explains, “ I needed extra time because I digest s— differently. It takes me [more] time and I have ADD”. It isn’t until recent years, around 2012, that students with ADHD received accommodations in the classroom. On a normal school day, Humberto sat in the back of a non-honors classroom with headphones in and a notebook in front of him filled with doodles. Deans and teachers viewed him as a student to be wary of, because he was slipping through the cracks. School was not for him. When asked if he ever intended to go to college, he replied, “I didn’t intend to because I had no idea what I would go to college for… I went anyways and that didn’t work out too [well].”  

GED’s and late high school diplomas have the false stigma of failure. However, Humberto’s story of success in the workplace despite receiving his diploma late disproves this stigma. While reflecting on his high school graduation experience, Humberto believes if he graduated on time, his current work life wouldn’t be terribly different. He believes, if anything, he would have gotten things done slightly quicker. After high school, Humberto took a six month break to see what he wanted to do while friends and family urged him to get his diploma. The impact of receiving his diploma late was minimal. “Nobody has ever checked to see if I actually graduated,” claims Humberto. He learned the work life by putting himself directly in the system. In doing this, he realized that while GED’s and diplomas hold value in the real world, they do not fully define one’s opportunities.

A high school diploma or GED is like a participation medal.

In the long run, a high school diploma or GED is like a participation medal. Real success is achieved through hard work and self application. Both of my parents exemplify this because they dropped out of high school in their native countries, yet they came to the United States and created their own opportunities. Although they lacked the full education established as “necessary” for a teen, both formed their own attractive résumés in other ways than a diploma. The attitude of hunger for success they demonstrated had no borders. David Karp, web developer and entrepreneur, dropped out of high school in the Bronx at age 15. In the back of his mother’s apartment, he developed Tumblr, which eventually sold for $1.1 billion. His story demonstrates how hard work and determination surpass the importance of an official certificate or diploma. In today’s society, students stress over finishing school and having a successful future. What they don’t realize is that success isn’t written on a diploma or college acceptance letter; it is embedded in one’s character and attitude. No diploma or certificate has the capacity to fully quantify one’s character, and it is imperative that society stops acting as if it does.