BY: QUENTIN STUCKEY
On a cold November afternoon in 2014, my graduating class and I gathered in our high school cafeteria for a Graduation Information assembly. Suddenly the moment that we had been anticipating for four long years was now quickly approaching and my high school was trying to fill us with not only a sense of accomplishment for having almost made it through, but also a sense of fear for our future.
A PowerPoint presentation was beaming brightly on the screen, informing us on how to apply to university, how to apply to college, how to go straight into a workplace environment and finally how to travel; I didn’t want to do any of it. People would say to me: “your generation likes to do things that go against the norm so you should take a gap year and travel” or “go to school and that way you’ll be set for life” or even “if you’re not going to school then you should go find a job.” I know what you’re thinking: these statements must have come from your parents. On the contrary my mother and father were always completely supportive of anything I wanted to do. Even my high school guidance counselor assured me that there were more options than the slides presented in that PowerPoint. These statements came from anyone who I confided in about my predicament, because after all, everyone has an opinion.
I had spent most of my high school career doing anything but thinking about my future. I did my homework, went to parties, was in and out of romantic relationships, worked at a part time job and took up recreational, passionate activities, which for me had always been writing. And now I felt the curtain coming down and it was time to start seriously looking into post secondary options, book a trip or just get a steady, well-paying job. But the fact was I couldn’t be bothered with any of it. I felt disillusioned because I didn’t want the things that I was supposed to want. I can still vividly recall saying to my mother: “I don’t even want to do anything.” Those words were terrifying to hear coming out of my mouth, but at a confusing time such as it was, honesty was the only option.
After months of deliberation, I had come to the decision that university and travelling were out of the equation so I went to the next logical step: I went to work. It wasn’t completely mindless work however; it came with a monetary purpose. I decided that I would set two hundred dollars a pay check into an RESP and one hundred dollars in cash would be reserved to take up space in a former pasta sauce jar; that was money for anything that came along.
I began working almost on a full time basis and when I wasn’t working I was either writing or spending time with family and friends. As the year went on I began to fall back into the same thinking patterns concerning my future. What on Earth was I going to do? In order to ignore my desperation for a sense of direction, I began to distract myself. My days were filled with work and my weekends were filled with hedonistic partying with friends; work was money and partying was a way to cope with the work. These kind of feelings that I began to have inspired a high amount of creativity in the form of poetry, plays and short stories; but I always felt that writing was never a career option, even if it was the only true passion I had. If I wanted to do something that made money in the field of English I felt that I had to be a teacher, an editor or a publisher. Being a full time writer seemed like an unattainable goal.
It wasn’t until one particularly slow afternoon at my job that I unexpectedly got a wake up call. It was a Tuesday, a typical slow day, but on this afternoon it was slower than usual. This left me with ample time to be alone with my thoughts. Self reflection can be such a helpful tool as long as it’s in small doses. I asked myself a difficult question: “What is it you truly want to do?” And the only answer that came impulsively, without any hesitation was to pursue what I was most passionate about: writing. That was the thing that made me most alive.
I began to question why I would waste my precious, non-guaranteed time on anything that didn’t fulfill me or make me want to wake up and face the world with purpose and confidence. I wanted to be educated however, and I knew that having a university degree would be in my best interest. Although post secondary education is becoming more of a personal choice nowadays and less of an expectation, I knew in my gut that by taking an English program in university I could still be creative and learn new aspects about my future career as a writer. So I applied to Ryerson University in Toronto for a BA in English. Now the money that I was saving up from my hard work was going to go to use, an educational and passionate use. I ended up getting in and I am now currently a first year English undergraduate.
During my gap year I also managed to travel to one of the top places I always wanted to visit: New York City. I spent three days in the vibrant city, witnessing and taking in buildings and places I had for so long pined to see up close. I felt extremely lucky just to be able to walk down the streets of what for me is the greatest American city; that feeling is something I will never forget. I was able to go thanks to my pasta jar full of extra cash.
Taking a year off after graduating from high school resulted in a bit of irony on my part. When faced with the decision to either go to school, travel or work, I fought against all three. It wasn’t until I had a year to myself that I ended up actually doing all three. Never let anyone tell you that decisions must be made at a particular time and place; time is one of the greatest gifts attributed to us. There is a time for learning, a time for travelling and a time for work; as long as you’re fuelled by your passion you can do anything. Taking a year to myself was one of the best decisions I ever made. It gave me the time to figure out exactly who I am and what I was meant to do.