[This story first appeared on Medium. It has been republished here with permission from the author]
Ok hey hey hey, let’s get one thing straight. I did not drop out.
For four years, I didn’t give up. Through the sleepless nights, mortifying juries and the general sense of doom. Maybe it was the ~4 lakhs/year fee, or the fear of letting my parents down. Whatever it was, I pulled through.
Because this time last year, instead of dressing in robes and posing for group photos, I was working overtime and chasing an impossible deadline in my busy Bangalore office.
And I wouldn’t have even known, if it hadn’t been for that meddling Facebook news feed.
I’d like to say it didn’t bother me. Why should it? I went out there and got a job, moved to a new city, made a life for myself. And I made better friendships in the first 2 months than in 4 years at college.
Unfortunately, the effect is inevitable. In a society that drills the idea of college into your head before you can even spell, it’s tough to just say “Yeah cool, I’m better off anyway”.
Instead, they have you chasing after a piece of paper as if it determines your entire life as an adult: career path, take-home salary, self-worth….
So of course, although I moved on and built my own career path from scratch, here I am writing a post fueled by a “Success McSuckserson posted a memory from this day last year” post. (Damn you, Facebook)
I’ll get down to it.
How & Why The Hell I Got Myself Kicked Out Of College
It was The Final-- OK, penultimate-- Moment. I did it. I had managed to sew 14 garment separates from muslin. My final collection was real--- albeit in its Toile (mock) stage. These pieces of muslin literally carried my blood, sweat and tears. So, so many tears. (Ask any fashion student why)
I rushed to the Jury Room with my muslin babies in my arms, ready to fight my last fight.
“Drishya Gautham-- you’re late, my dear!”
“I KNOW I KNOW, sorry Ma’am. I’m ready now!”
“Lekin Drishya ki jury toh hum nahi le sakte hain, na”
(But we can’t take Drishya’s jury, no?)
That was it.
My HOD took me aside to tell me that my appeal to the Registrar was denied. This would be my last day at college. Didn’t I see it coming? He wishes he could help. He told me so.
I guess that’s when it hit me. There’s only so much a carpet can have brushed under it; I had already made a mountain.
See, I’d got a repeat on my Marketing & Merchandising elective from 3rd year. No biggie. Since I’d gotten an arrear every year, I took it lightly. I just had to give in a resubmission on my first day of college. I ignored an email from college that reminded me that I missed my first date, and need to make the second, or face consequences. Meh, I thought. What could they do? I once handed in a resubmit in January. I was still there. Strike 1.
I submitted my reworked assignment in the first week of the new year. A new prof had taken the place of my old (favourite) one. “Cool”, he said. “ I’ll send the marks across”.
So I continued eating my ice cream stick and went about my dreary college life. Until one day, when I waltzed into the office and attempted to pay the fees.
“You’re not on the roll call, madam. You must have failed”, Mr. Admin Dude casually throws at me.
Oookay. So I check.
“You haven’t even submitted your referral”
But I did! Sir, didn’t I submit my referral?
“Oh yeah, I passed you. Check with Ms. B”
Miss B, *panic*, I passed, right?
“I’m sure you did, darling… let me check — oh wait, you submitted late. Why? Didn’t you know you missed the last date? Didn’t you get the letter we posted to this address?”
Um, no. I don’t live there anymore. Who still uses post? Why didn’t I get it on email, like the first one?
“Wish I could help you. Wish you had come and sucked up to me earlier, like these girls. You’re on your own now, biatch”
So I wrote, and appealed. I’m sorry, I was unaware of the date. I submitted as soon as I got here. Please accept my submission and let me move on. I am a good student.
“We shall discuss and get back to you.”
And I let it be at that. Strike 2.
They let me attend my classes, without a question. I was assessed for every assignment, mid sem and final. So bit by bit — or in one clean sweep, I couldn’t tell anymore — I built the mountain under the carpet.
What was not addressed, I figured, was irrelevant. I was still there, still trying, wasnt I? I was not at all doing gross injustice to my parents’ money and trust.
The worst part was that it wasn’t just this huge inconvenient truth that I was sitting on. There were also 2 DDs, one for each semester. Lakhs of my parents’ money was tucked away into a corner of my shelf and mind, and I hoped I would never find it.
You’d be absolutely right to think I had it coming. I did.
I was a proud independent adult. I paid bills and cleaned up after myself and dealt with problems on my own.
Yet, I had trouble accepting the consequences of my sometimes misguided and naive actions.
I had trouble accepting that I had failed at what I thought was my calling, after failing through most of my school years.
I had trouble accepting that the one thing I thought I would be good at, I was not. Not conventionally, at least.
I refused to accept that I didn’t know how to work a system. I didn’t learn how to deal with it, nor did I manage to beat it. I stagnated. In a pool of self pity and hollow protests.
And the worst of all, I had trouble asking for, and accepting help.
I was so afraid of disappointing and worrying my parents that I completely forgot just how understanding and supportive they could be.
When I made the phone call to Chennai and told them the whole story, it was bad, of course. There was panic and yelling and many shades of disappointment. But the most pressing, and most depressing question, was the same from both my parents.
“Why didn’t you just tell us earlier? Why have you carried this horrible guilt for an entire year? Couldn’t you ask for our help?”
I didn’t know what to say. It wouldn’t matter, whatever I did. Not then, not at my final appeal meeting.
Look, when it comes down to it, I was all of 20. I was a student, still learning the ways of life. I made mistakes, and I was ready to learn from them.
But that’s not how they saw it.
The final verdict — whether to be allowed to graduate— was decided by a grand jury. 2 professors (who never taught me), my HOD (who never taught me), and 3 scary administrators (who had never met me). A classy touch: they invited a student who was passing by to sit in as a “witness”. Oh and she just happened to be a brilliant designer.
For an hour or so they cross-questioned me, tried to catch me out on a lie, doubted my intent. A classic spanish inquisition. And of course, they won. They told me I was not fit for the industry, that I was destined to fail. They got to my head, my spirit. I could do nothing but beg and cry, while they told me to be more like my poor unsuspecting witness-classmate, who graciously comforted me after the incident.
As expected, it didn’t work. I was not allowed to graduate. Instead, while my classmates’ collections were displayed on the runway, I was making calls and frantically emailing prospective employers.
My friends and family often ask me why I’m not going back to finish my degree. It’s only a year or two, just pull through it, they advise. I have a simple answer: I want to be happy.
A piece of paper is not enough to bring me back to the most negative, depressing phase of my life. Constant anxiety and fear of rejection? No thank you, not worth it. I didn’t need it then and I sure as hell don’t need it now. This might mean fewer opportunities to study abroad, but it also means a challenge to prove myself in the real world. It’s 2016, man. No one wants no degree. I may not have the certificate, but I took everything I could from the education. And that’s what’s important to me.
Do I regret the entire ordeal? I’d be lying if I said no. Of course I have many regrets, much fuel for anxiety and insecurities. Will I ever complete what I set out for? Will I ever succeed in my passions? It’s a constant struggle.
But I also learned a shit ton from it.
It’s what taught me that fashion is not my only calling.
It’s what motivated me to get my first (writing) job within the month of being kicked out.
It’s what constantly reminds me to raise a giant middle finger to any negative influence in my life.
It’s what led up to my “I’m CEO, Bitch” moment — which is now.
Except my card reads “I’m a freelance writer and I pay my own bills and I have a beautiful home and a cute AF cat and the greatest support system, bitch”.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way. The CEO part… well, I’m only 23. I’m in no hurry.
Words: Drishya Gautam
[Drishya is designer at heart - of words, images, clothes et al. She lives for dynamic company, good food and a hearty laugh. In her free time, she works as a freelance fashion writer and digital content marketer. You can find her at email@example.com, often procrastinating. Follow her musings on Medium, Twitter and Facebook.]