There may be some of you asking how I have an art degree, despite being a college dropout. After mentioning both briefly in recent posts, here is the explanation.

First, I did not anticipate graduating from college. My ambition was to be in a touring band by the age of twenty. I held a meager interest in collegiate pursuits. Not that I struggled with the retention of ideas, but I perceived a disparity between curriculum and personal interests. Reluctantly I acknowledged that my mother and brother were enrolled at UNC-Greensboro, and assumed likewise affording tuition and enjoying the campus culture. Furthermore, I chose the same major as them, which was childhood education. Again, my dream was music, but I knew complaints from my parents would not cease without a degree — and I was still living with them.

After two years of standardized general education, it was time for me to take the Praxis 1 examination. Despite my lack of sleep (not because I was studying), I passed part one beyond the median results of my peers. Yet, I managed to fail part two by a single point. The chagrin of such a moment is difficult to misconstrue. Seated in a cubicle, staring at the computer monitor, with utter disbelief …

The failure required that I wait a semester before entering the School of Education. At the same time, my concentration requirements were almost fulfilled and I abhorred returning to a classroom. Therefore I became an Art Design major in the spring of 2009, which involves further explanation.

The spring of 2009 presented substantial changes. My first serious relationship ended after four years of dating, I moved out of my parent’s house for the first time, my brother was married, and my job was becoming a career.

This was my first experience with having a salary. Whether I worked 10-20 hours, or 60-70 hours a week, my pay was the same. Since most of the year was considered off-season, it was a good deal. My boss took me on vacation with her husband, I stayed in a separate room. There were discussions of me having a company car, I was to learn the business and do what they did.

The issue was, our biggest pool required a staff of lifeguards and it was difficult finding people for the positions. Because I had years of experience in lifeguarding, I filled an obvious need. Although I could hire and fire people, I wasn’t learning or participating in the job aspects I desired. 

I considered myself to be too talented at too many things to be stuck at a pool all day, smelling my skin cook under the sun every day, being a glorified babysitter for patrons that refused to listen to me because they paid my salary, etc. This is not directed toward my employer, but I did have resentment toward my place in life and she probably noticed. 

Schooling was on the decline for me. I was constantly being asked to draw things I didn’t care about. On the other hand, despite my complaints, I was facing prospects of pursuing a career that would likely pay better than an art degree. 

This was my decision. My employer did not suggest or recommend me dropping out.

As a pool manager, it was my duty to prepare aquatic facilities for inspections according to state and county regulations. These inspections did not coordinate well with my academic schedule. The busiest times for every pool were late spring and early fall, which conflicted with the correlating semesters. Going back to the difficulty of obtaining and retaining lifeguard staff, the majority were college students who easily chose school over work. The result meant that I was alone more often than preferred. 

With pool inspections approaching, my boss relied on more of my time. I decided to drop a class, thinking I could find an equivalent at a different time. However, it was too late in the semester to add a new class and I was unable to re-enter the one I had dropped. I was thus considered a part-time student, and my financial aid was revoked.

Consequently, I became a college dropout upon finishing the spring semester of 2009.

Again, this was my decision.

Being a dropout was fun, there was freedom to pursue the concepts I had stockpiled through the years. During 2009-2010, I recorded albums worth of music, produced a plethora of art pieces, and began selling my literary work to strangers.

It was also during this time that I became friends with my future wife. However, that is far too complicated to discuss at this point. Just know that Nicholas Sparks would be jealous. I could go into all kinds of stories about awkward friend zones, the ending of past friendships, some rejection, and denial, being kicked out of Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, lots of family drama at Carolina Beach, and plenty of other situations.

However, I should explain another friendship. 

Although my music dreams were fading away, there were times when I played with a group of people. One night we had a gig in a little coffee shop. It was in my hometown, I remembered skating in the area as a kid. I talked with the owner for a couple of minutes, but nothing meaningful was said. The next week I drove to the coffee shop after leaving a pool. It was the off-season for me so I was able to get there before closing time. Out of habit, I began cleaning up. I asked the owner where the sugars were and began restocking his supplies. This was repeated two or three times before the owner asked if I wanted to make a schedule. The agreement was that I would clean and restock, he would teach me how to make coffee drinks, and he often gave me free food. Jerry and I became best friends. He was even a groomsman at my wedding. 

One week, he went on vacation and I managed the place for him. That is still a fond memory. I remember surprising people with latte art, drawing their names with foam. Anyway, when I mentioned selling books, art and music, his coffee shop is where I was selling. One day he called me. A customer had purchased my book and CDs and wanted to discuss my plans for the future. She admitted to knowing someone in the Financial Aid Department at Elon University and believed I should attain my art degree.

We began the application process late in the year, but I was accepted for fall admission. However, because of my late start, most of the grants had already been dispersed and I only had a month to come up with $18,000. I received multiple letters from the university stating if the bill was not paid in full by the registration deadline, that I would be dropped from my classes. The consequence didn’t seem likely, I was counting on God to save the day. The whole thing seemed orchestrated by God. A stranger I had never met, for some reason buying my stuff and being impressed, wanting to help me for nothing in return …

Four hours before the deadline, financial aid covered half of the tuition, but it wasn’t enough. I called the financial department to tell them I could not pay the bill, was transferred around a cycle of people, but then had an unexpected conversation with the President of the university. We discussed possibilities, and I was set to resume my academic education in the spring of 2011. I was surprisingly excited about going to college, but I could not ignore my blatant struggles with financial debt.

Leading up to this point, I faced the dilemma of not having a ride to work, yet not being able to pay for repairs without going to work. I went to my bank for a loan, and they gave me a credit card instead. The car repairs amounted to half of my credit limit, which was designed by the banker, and the interest quickly multiplied my balance beyond my control. I had turned to hate the pools and was desperately trying to find a financial use for my talents. At home, I was struggling to remain friends with my roommate, despite the months, I used his car for transportation.

I went on to endure variety in ways I would have rather avoided. There were times that I ignored hunger while paying bills with debt I could not repay; times when I could go into any grocery store and buy what I wanted using cash; times when I felt truly popular and supported, and others when my best friends were guitars and a keyboard.

I lost my job with the pools, quit talking to my roommate, and realized my father’s health was declining. Circumstances compelled me towards moving back in with my parents, I could no longer evade my failure as an adult.

My plan was to learn audio engineering and move to San Diego. While researching schools in Charlotte, I found one in Raleigh with the program I was looking for. I inquired about the school online and a representative called me the next day. Three days after that conversation, I toured the campus and discussed programs with the representative. I informed Elon University that I was no longer planning to attend the spring semester, and prepared to move once more.

Soon after submitting my portfolio, I was admitted into the Audio Production and Design Program at a college in Raleigh. Shortly after my twenty-third birthday, I found myself watching another door close. Not wanting to go further into debt, I abandoned my previous plans.

Three months later, my father passed away.

He was well over six feet tall, weighing three hundred-plus pounds. With incredible intellect, he would often speak of things above my head. That was the man I knew, a startling contrast to the frail man I found upon my return home.

I still remember visiting him in the hospital, strapped to a bed with wires connecting his body to monitoring systems. The doctors decided to send him to Chapel Hill for further procedures. He would confess to my brother that he was a terrible father, but with sincerity claimed to one day be a wonderful grandfather. I remember spending time with him on a Thursday afternoon. I told him the circumstances were not so bad, and that it wasn’t like he had cancer. The next morning, I received a call at work from my brother. Rushing home, I found a swarm of strange people gathering. I witnessed my father rapidly deteriorate over a five-month period. His heart gave out on March 4, 2011.

My mom’s father followed three weeks later, two weeks before her birthday.

I speak well of my father, but my mother was the main participant in my life growing up. She is the reason I was exposed to art and classical music as a child.

Although both parents wanted me to obtain a college degree, that being my father’s desire did lead me back to UNC-G. It was there that I began the journey, and it was there that I finished it.

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