SOCIAL STUDIES My Road To Receiving A College Degree Shiri Appleby

I can finally call myself a college graduate and when I say finally, I mean it.  Sure, receiving a college diploma is a long process for everyone, but for me it was a process that took over 14 years to complete – a little less than half my life.

As a high school student, I went to school more to collect “my messages” and check in with my social life than to learn anything about geometry or how to compose a perfect sonnet.  Somehow I was admitted to the college of my choice, USC (I know, I know, University of Second Choice) because I was able to audition as an actress and gain admittance (as well as pay full tuition) through my already established career in show business.

I packed my bags, moved 30 minutes away from home and set out on the path that would hopefully allow me to become my own person.  The bummer was that the road I first chose, the road called college, wasn’t the road for me. At the age of 18, I felt like college was holding me back.  I was so hungry to get into the working world and see what I could create for myself that continuing my education in a field I was already considered a professional in seemed like a waste of time and hard earned money.  This feeling prevented me from experiencing the collegiate life because I wasn’t committed to being there.  I set up my school schedule from 8-11am everyday so I’d be available for every audition that came my way instead of sleeping in till noon and going at it all night long, studying and partying, like my fellow students.  The lifestyle that I had bought into believing would be the best time of my life was now apparently a bust and I began brainstorming back up plans immediately.

Shortly after my second year started, I hatched a plan.  If I could land a regular TV gig, I would be too busy working to complete my education – score!  Thankfully, my plan worked and by what would have been the beginning of my junior year I was starring on a television show called Roswell and making my college education a thing of the past.  Sure, I was on a leave of absence, but I never had any thought about checking back in…. that is, until I did.

Sometime around my quarter-life crisis, I rented an apartment in NYC so I could expand my world and expose myself to everything that famous city has to offer.  What became increasingly clear to me was that the people who were succeeding in the big apple were succeeding because of what they were able to create using their minds, something that I was admittedly in awe of.  Sure, others could say the same about me, but in my mind, show business is a gigantic game of luck, mixed in with a requirement of skill and yet a larger test of patience.  I mean, it’s a noble art form and one I’m super-passionate about, but any garnered work is largely due to being chosen as opposed to having the ability to make something happen for yourself.  I couldn’t help questioning what I had learned during all my years of sitting on set, other than how to hit my mark, say my line and find my light.  Instantly I realized that my life had become focused on one specific goal and now my mind was asking for more stimulation.  I wanted more knowledge on the subjects my new friends were so easily able to discuss.  I had a feeling that that knowledge would add so much more value to my experiences, on and off camera.

During these dinners, the question of where I received my education would pop up from time to time and that’s when I started to become familiar with my increasingly uncomfortable feelings about my dropout status – it just didn’t fall in line with the person I was hoping to be.  It didn’t fall in line with who I wanted to be, I should say.  Honestly, my college dropout status never seemed to irk anyone else.  In fact, it was almost this kind of cool thing, like proof that it was possible to succeed in business without a formal education.  Unfortunately, to me, not having a diploma symbolized a task I wasn’t able to complete and that feeling, to me, was something I wanted to move on from.

During the summer in between shooting seasons of my latest TV show, Life Unexpected, I decided it was finally time to make that move.  Film sets are notorious for downtime so I decided that I would make the best use of that time by enrolling in the University of Phoenix’s online program.  As I would sit in the hair and make-up trailer everyday or in between set-ups for the next scene, I would have my computer on my lap and write research projects, do algebra assignments and respond to my fellow classmates’ work, all for the goal of possessing my very own Psychology degree.  Finally, my brain was being asked more of itself through answering questions that weren’t no-brainers.  It felt like a mental workout to be challenged and to see that I was capable of performing at a level that surprised others, but more importantly, myself.

My TV job came to an end – like they all eventually do – and as the cast and crew were saying our good-byes, I’d be asked if I was going to finish up my college education or if school was now, again, a thing of the past.  I totally understand the sentiment.  I mean, why go to college and spend that money when I didn’t “need” it for anything?  I didn’t need it but I wanted it, and that’s a powerful thing, something that’s hard to resist.  Five months after the show’s wrap, I could finally call myself a college graduate.

I have to say that what I ended up learning was different than what I set out to achieve.  My college education altered the way I go about life in a way that I didn’t know needed fixing, that I didn’t know I was missing.  Now I know what the process is like of having an idea and doing the work to see it all the way through to completion.  Each level of class showed me how vital it is to attack projects in life as steps on my road to my chosen destination.  I understood through completing each course how they each taught me something unique and how they were there for the reason of preparing me for the next level of education, of insight.  Thankfully, I am now able to see those same cycles in my life, personally and professionally, and feel a sense of understanding about how to live life on a journey.

I am so grateful that I went back to school at a time when I could have easily gone without because I now know how much work it takes to make your dream a reality.  College taught me that in order to succeed in being the person you want to be you need to show up everyday and do the work.  Some classes will be harder than others, some lessons easier to learn but if you keep showing up, keep making an effort and doing your best, that diploma will eventually be yours.

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  1. Thank you Shiri for posting this article and congratulations on graduating. Your article spoke to all of us!

  2. Congratulations on your accomplishment. Thank you for articulating that the benefits of college are not always the exact content, but often in the critical thinking, problem solving, and discipline one learns from studying a variety of topics. I teach chemistry in college, and these rewards are often difficult to explain to students.

  3. Good for you and thanks for the inspiration. Every Graduation season, I actually get pretty discouraged that I’m not yet walking to recieve my degree. But you’re right – as long as I keep showing up, it will be me someday too. You Rock Sister.

  4. I always knew you had a first class mind. This is a great story of personal growth, and is similar to my desire to always keep learning and challenging myself mentally.

  5. Good for you, Shiri! It’s really inspiring that you finished college even though you didn’t “need” to. So many people out there think a college degree is useless if it doesn’t get you a job. What they don’t realize is that that discussion of ideas opens your mind and gives you a chance to see possibilities when things are not going your way. I’m not saying that school is the answer to that, but it’s more that the ideas that spark your interest are always bubbling there, and when things suck, they are something you can turn to, and turn into something more.

  6. Thanks for posting, Shiri. As an adult, you think once you have success in one area, you putting off a college education doesn’t seem like such a big deal. I decided I wanted to pursue another aspect of my education, and returned to school to get my degrees in psychology & forensic psychology. I may have changed what I want out of life, but it is never too late to change your mind about how you will achieve it! Some people think they are too “old” to go back to college for another degree, or to change the course of their life, but that is a load of crap! If you have the desire, it is better late than never. Thank you for being an inspiration. Best of luck in your new endeavors!

  7. This article couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Online courses, community college, state schools… doesn’t matter where you go – when the brain wants more, you gotta give it more! Thanks for this.