When I turned 18, I gave myself a birthday gift. I became a high school dropout.
I went to a private middle school where instead of report cards, I got entire packets of evaluations. From science to cultural studies, every teacher took up a full sheet of paper, assessing my ability to ask questions, show up to class on time, and complete homework.
But when I enrolled in Berkeley High School -- a student metropolis with 3,500 other teens -- my class sizes doubled and homework and tests took on more weight than ever before. School became not about my level of mastery, but about how many papers I could turn in.
Everywhere I looked, I saw people falling into exhausting routines, full of extracurriculars, extra credit and extra tutoring; to pass all their AP classes, to look good for an expensive college, to get a scholarship. And here I was, just months into my freshman year, already exhausted. I'd sit in bed until late at night thinking, "How am I going to get through the next morning when today was hell?"
Junior year, I started skipping classes in favor of reading in the park across the street. It was the first time in a long time that I felt engaged in learning. It woke me up to the fact that I needed to take control of my own education.
During my senior year, I dropped out. Within a month, I passed the GED with a plan to attend community college and transfer to a four-year university. Most adults couldn't understand why I'd give up on my high school education. After all, didn't I want to graduate?