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I dropped out of high school, here’s what it’s meant for me as an adult

PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOBIAS ROWLES
WORDS BY CAT FORSYTH

“I believed completing high school was not even a choice – it was a given. But very quickly, reality sunk in.”

My high school experience was nothing short of miserable. Every day was a fight to get out of bed, walk to school and put on a smile; I felt like I was drowning on the inside. It came to a head towards the end of year 11 when my psychiatrist could see the pain I was in.


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“Maybe you should take a break from school,” they suggested during one of our sessions, and relief flowed through me at the thought of not having to attend anymore. After a few weeks off, it was clear to me that going back was going to be more difficult than I had imagined.

New year, new decision

I spent Christmas and the following weeks in the countryside of Perth with my family, a welcome escape from Melbourne and the reminders of school. It was New Year’s Eve and I was distraught. The last few weeks, despite being spent in Western Australia’s beautiful beachside towns, were unbearable. I was hiding what felt like the biggest burden to carry – the reality that I wasn’t able to return to school.

While my family was gathering to ring in the New Year at a campsite with dozens of other campers, I was wandering around the grounds in tears. My parents came to find me, wanting to know what was making me so distressed.

I remember whispering to them “I can’t go back to school”, through blubbering sobs and a very runny nose. The secret was out; I’d finally admitted it. To my great surprise, they were incredibly accepting (they’re the most caring and understanding parents, so I shouldn’t have been shocked). 

A new chapter 

When I returned to Melbourne, I was faced with the prospect of a whole new chapter – one I’d never expected to face. My slightly delusional plan for my future consisted of graduating year 12 with full marks in product design and technology in order to get into RMIT and complete a degree in fashion design. I then wanted to travel and work, get married and have kids all before age 30 (yes, I know how ridiculous this sounds).

The point is that I was a perfectionist, and striving for perfection made me feel like I was going places. I was highly motivated and very aspirational. I believed completing high school was not even a choice – it was a given. But very quickly, reality sunk in. I threw out my uniform, chucked out my school books and redecorated my room. New year, new me and all that.

Despite the relief I felt, I’d never been more lost. I’m going to fast forward a couple of years, skipping the endless therapy, pandemic-induced isolation and brutal depression. All you need to know about that is that I was in a deep, dark hole, and it took three years to find the strength to pull myself out of it. 

Back in the loop 

At the end of 2021, I decided it was time to start being a ‘person’ again. I finally felt ready for life, so I enrolled in university. My love of fashion is unwavering, and even through the pains of the last few years, it remained a constant – it gave me something to live for. I enrolled in a Bachelor’s in Fashion Marketing, starting part-time to ease myself into the uni experience.

While dipping my toe back into ‘normal’ life, I reached out to the few connections I had built so far in the industry. This consisted of a few fellow students, a couple of stylists and brand directors, and a handful of people I consider mentors. 

Where I’ve ended up

So where am I after dropping out of high school and taking three years off from life? As it turns out, I’m in a pretty good place. I’m in my second trimester at university, studying a course I love. I’m involved in uni life – I have a solid friend group and I love volunteering for various activities happening around campus.

I’m interning, working and gaining more experience and knowledge than I ever thought possible. I think sometimes, as young people, we have such rigid expectations of how life is supposed to go. Being a ‘high school dropout’ was never a part of my plan but I genuinely wouldn’t have it any other way now. Thanks to my post-high school experiences, I’ve ended up exactly where I wanted to be.

If school isn’t for you, you can find out more about your post-high school options here.

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