I grew up in a loving, traditional town, where it seemed like there were few paths people could take after graduating high school. Back home, it’s not at all uncommon for people to get married and start having families at the age of 19 or 20. If people do go to college right out of high school, it’s usually at the community college nearby. Many don’t advance past an associate’s degree, and their studies are typically focused on a specific vocation. I have seen people who have followed these paths quite happily. However, from a young age, I was sure none of these paths were ones I wanted to take.
Something I have learned about myself over the years is that I have a tendency to stubbornly cling to my convictions—regardless of how much that makes me stick out. And stick out I did—particularly in high school. I had always been the weird kid in school, the type of person who almost unfailingly chose reading novels or writing in my journal over socializing (or paying attention in class). When I was in high school, however, I became even more disengaged with my surroundings.
Near the end of my sophomore year, I started to realize just how desperate I was to escape the confines of my high school to discover something greater. Maybe it was because I didn’t fit in with my peers, maybe it was because I didn’t feel academically challenged, or maybe it was because of problems I was having at home. Whatever it was, I knew I had to find a way out, and I didn’t want to wait until after graduation.
There are only a few early entrance programs (colleges that will admit students who have not yet received a high school diploma) throughout the country. I studied quite a few of them in depth on a frantic spree of college research my sophomore year of high school. For various reasons, many of them didn’t feel quite right to me. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon Shimer College, a tiny Great Books school in Chicago, that I truly recognized where I was meant to be—in a school full of other readers, writers and thinkers. I submitted my application immediately, and was accepted on a scholarship. By the middle of my junior year of high school, I was able to leave my small town for the bustling city of Chicago. By second term, I found myself on the North Central College campus in Naperville, the result of an acquisition.
At the Shimer Great Books School, I have found my niche. I have grown socially with many of the wonderful people I have met since I started going to school here. For the first time in my life, I feel fully engaged in the classroom. My discussion and writing skills have improved immensely with the wonderful instruction and feedback I have received from my facilitators over the past few years. Last spring, I even won our annual Ruth Cooley poetry contest. Truly, Shimer was a lifesaver for me at a time when I was otherwise feeling lost.
— E.M. Billington '20, Shimer Great Books Humanities