What’s so great about college?

I recently attended my 25-year high school reunion in Winchester, a town with fewer than 5,000 residents.

Aside from sharing the expected sentiments of “Wow! we’re old. How did this happen?” being with my classmates resurfaced old feelings of self-doubt.

The truth was I could not focus on school because I was a gay kid in small-town Indiana in the 1980s and ’90s. I survived the bullying by becoming as emotionally detached as possible. I kept my circle of friends very small, and I didn’t even allow that group to truly see me. I wanted to be anywhere but school because the school environment was painful.

My class had 121 students. I graduated 100 out of 121. For years, counselors and teachers told me that I was “not college material.” While they didn’t expressly say it, what I heard was “You are dumb. You are not smart enough for college.” I didn’t know any better, and my grades backed up what they told me.

My mother and grandfather, however, told me something different: “You’re going to college. You are capable.”

I entered college on academic probation, and I thrived in a new environment in which counselors, professors and my peers saw me as college material. I was finally able to blend into the background, giving me space to focus on my studies. I graduated college, got a job and made mentors and friends who continued to believe in me.

In my career in higher education settings, I’ve seen many students thrive despite the negative and inaccurate labels others have placed on them and the uncertainty they have had to overcome.

Everyone has their own path in life, and some have no desire to seek education beyond high school. But if you’re opting out of college because of self-doubt, choose to believe in yourself instead. You absolutely can do it, and it will change your life. Not just because of the credential or degree you will earn and the doors that will be opened for you, but also because of the people you will meet along the way.

Your journey through education might also impact others. You may influence friends, coworkers, even your own children to attend college someday. If that’s the case, lead by example. Others pay close attention to your actions, not just your thoughts or opinions of yourself.

Ivy Tech is one of your most accessible choices with online courses, 19 physical campuses and a whole team of amazing faculty and staff who believe in you and are here to help you. It offers degree programs and certifications that provide real-world, practical education that can improve your life in so many ways.

If you’re not sure where to start, we’ll help you. If you have a financial barrier, we will exhaust all possibilities of state, federal, institutional or other aid.

While college may not be for everyone, self-doubt should not be keeping you from living up to your fullest potential. Come to Ivy Tech. If you do your part, we will do ours.

Matt Hawkins is executive vice president and chief of staff at Ivy Tech Community College. He can be reached at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].