The high school drop out graduates

Collage: The author

The high school drop out graduates

By: Valgerður Lilja Björnsdóttir


I dropped out of high school at 19 with less than half of my classes finished. I felt like a failure and thought that I would never get anywhere in life. 

Next week I graduate with my BA degree!

“Do things at your own pace” never resonated with me. The thought of deviating from the timeline the people around me seemed to have no issue following while it left me with a drowning feeling was terrifying. I wasn’t about to accept defeat.

What would that make me? Weak? Lazy? A failure? 

So you can imagine my panic when my grades and attendance started slipping right alongside with the state of my mental health once I started high school. After three exhausting years of fighting to stay afloat in a system that simply did not work for me, I finally made the decision to drop out.

Dropping out was devastating, I was sure that I had now officially ruined my life and that I would never accomplish anything. Sure, I do tend to have a flair for the dramatic, but the devastation still felt very real. In order to finally drop out, I had to accept that I didn’t have control over my mental health and the way it affected my life and I think admitting that was harder than any extra year in school.

Plot twist: I didn’t get the correct diagnosis until last year, so of course I wasn’t in control of my mental issues. But that’s a whole different story to tell. 

So, how did I get here when it seemed for years like school was simply for me (here being graduating with a BA degree and planning a masters degree in the near future)? After dropping out I worked for a year. Within that year I came to the conclusion that I really wanted to continue studying. Knowing that the regular school system would crush me and all of my will to study, I looked toward the folk high schools in Sweden (folkhögskola). To my surprise, I was able to finish my high school degree in one year at the folkhögskola rather than the (at least) two years I had left of my old school. It seemed like a bargain, and honestly, it was.

I left my home country, moved to the campus of the school and spent the year getting to know all my housemates and studying. All of a sudden, the school year was over and I could finally apply to university. In a way, I knew that university would be easier for me as I would be studying something that I chose based on my own interests (turns out this was foreshadowing for my future ADHD diagnosis). So in 2019, I moved to Malmö to start my university journey.

Has university been easy breezy? No. Have I cried over assignments? Yes. Have I threatened to give up and be a bartender for the rest of my life? Absolutely. But I have never felt the same amount of hopelessness as I used to. Despite being whiny, I have always stayed motivated and even when things got tough, I knew I would be able to finish my studies.

So here I am! Graduating in six days. It’s scary, it’s exciting, it’s overwhelming and it’s a little sad. Mostly, I am incredibly proud and a little surprised of myself. As I continue existing and learning new things, the more obvious it is that clichés are clichés for a reason. “Do things at your own pace” got me to where I am today. It will get me to where I will be in the future. The societal timeline is a sham and we are living on our own time.

I wish I had a bunch of pointers to help others that find themselves in my situation. That I could end this text with a list that tells you how to get through it. I don’t. I only have myself to show for all these years of fighting. I can only tell you the classics:

But now I know that it’s true.

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