“Daddy always says, ‘An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure,’” Steel Magnolias’ Shelby Eatenton said of her ever-practical father, Drum.

What an incredibly interesting and undreamt-of world that we momentary mortals have prevailed through lately. With states across the nation steadily reopening (or abruptly exploding — that’s you, Missouri) at their elected officials’ desired pace, millions of furloughed Americans have begun returning to work. Some never stopped working in the first place, whereas others have remained homebound and continue working remotely. Some haven’t been nearly as fortunate and are still relying on diminishing unemployment to get them by. This leads me to deeply consider what warrants being deemed an essential worker in the first place, and what societal values we place on an individual’s coincidental job or chosen career.

Whether you’re a grocery store clerk, truck driver, childcare provider, farmer, retail worker, tradesman or woman, flight attendant, small business owner, or first responder without a two or four-year college degree, what right does anyone have to label you as less for your lack of degree or highfalutin job title, when an entire country relied on you during a global pandemic and government shutdown?

The answer, in short, is none. You’re already enough and our society needs you, just as you are now. 

In a day and age where being an adult without a college degree is sometimes afforded a subtle downward glance or an internal jab of inadequacy — or it costs you that promotion that you are otherwise equally qualified for, let me say this: higher education is significant and it has its place in our society for many professions. It offers that previously mentioned leg-up for career advancement opportunities while providing you with an increased knowledge base, and a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Just like in The Game of Life, your earning potential statistically fares better if you were to pursue that degree, but in the same breath…

Not every high school student will receive a grant or earn a scholarship. Not every young adult knows which career path they wish to pursue at the age of 18. Not everyone is afforded with the luxury of having parents or providers who are willing to cover their child’s out-of-household living expenses as they focus on obtaining an undergraduate degree from a costly university. Not every young adult is willing to serve our country for a period of four years for the promise of free education. Not everyone is mentally prepared to swim in an unending sea of student loan debt, like my brothers, for the possibility but not the guarantee of something greater. 

My dad used to tell me the joke (that I officially do not agree with but feel the need to mention, because he is ironically pursuing a superfluous, post-retirement degree at the moment), “How do you get someone with a Bachelor of Fine Arts off of your front porch? You pay them for the pizza.”

Oh, Dad.

As for me, I sustained my livelihood directly out of high school by working in emergency services, and during the early years, I often supplemented my income by working additional hours or taking on something part-time. My parents had given me the option to work through earning a two-year community college degree on their dime so long as I made the grades, but I just didn’t prioritize it. I truly didn’t know what I wanted to do in a forever kind of way, and I think a lot of us don’t. Although times were different back then, I’d watched my dad work and retire from a successful career with a mere high school diploma and military experience. My mom didn’t graduate with her bachelor’s degree, which was required for her desired field of work, until the age of 35. I suppose you could say that I had ever-practical parents growing up, just like good ol’ Drum.

Amidst it all, I put my own higher education on the backburner because I was serving a purpose within my community. My employment grew into an experience-based career with a steady salary, good benefits and a solid retirement, and I often joked that my “back hurt” from carrying several coworkers who held a master’s degree. With less than sixty hours of college credits between three community colleges combined, I am still without a two or four-year degree. As is my husband, who has built two successful businesses from the ground up and is one of the smartest, hardest working people I know (Lord, don’t tell him that I admitted to that). My journey is my own, as is his and as is yours. Humanity will always need and seek us for our natural skill, talent, and continued contributions as functional members of society.

You are enough, regardless of your degree, dream career, or lack thereof.

My dad, now dually retired from two experience-based careers, has been pressuring me to go back. At the age of 59, he will graduate with his Bachelor’s in I’m Not Really Sure What in December of this year, and I am now the only member of my immediate family without a college degree. Oftentimes, it feels taboo to openly discuss this topic. But that’s why I’m here — willing and able to shoot some confidence and solidarity up your dot, dot, dot. There is value in the college graduate and there is value in the hairdresser, the salesman, the writer, and the fellow high school graduate who walks humbly beside us in The Game of Life.

We are but the product of many folks who just so happened to shag up along the way. If anyone, yourself included, ever makes you feel less for your past or present accomplishments, please remember this: your journey is not defined by a piece of paper. Keep hustling, because society needs you, too.

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