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Dropping out of Rice was the best decision I’ve ever made

Photo Illustrated by Charlene Pan

By Eric Stone     1/29/19 10:12pm

It was at 59 Diner that I decided to drop out of Rice. I hadn’t been to a class in weeks. I was going to fail every course on my schedule. There was no hope. It had been a long time coming. I had never been ready to go to college.

When I applied, I thought I was ready. Like many Rice students, middle and high school had been a breeze for me. I was used to feeling like the smartest person in the room, and that was a large part of the way I defined myself. I lived by a code: do the least possible work for the most possible gain. At the end of my senior year, I had managed to square my grade in AP Biology, taking my mid-semester grade of 9 to 81 by the end of the year. School was not something that I needed to take seriously. 

As some of you may know, that’s not a strategy that works at Rice. The classes are designed to be challenging. Keeping up with required reading and homework requires a good deal of self-motivation. Trying to skate by simply doesn’t work. 

My freshman year was a telling experience. I was a mathematical economic analysis major, so I needed to take Jim Brown’s ECON 200, which was the first course in the major at that time. It’d be a breeze – I’d taken AP Economics, so how hard could it be? The first day of class confirmed my suspicions: it was almost exactly the same material I’d learned my last semester of high school. I skipped the next few classes, figuring that I’d just drop back in when the class moved on to things I didn’t already know. Those of you who have taken Jim Brown’s economics classes know how the next scene goes. I showed up again just before the first exam. I understood almost nothing and bombed the test, vowing not to make the same mistake again. The next semester, I did almost the same thing. 

At this point, I was starting to realize that I wasn’t the smartest person in the room anymore. So I decided I’d add a double major in statistics. Then, a friend of mine told me statistics wasn’t real math, and, in my mind, I wasn’t a real man if I wasn’t doing real math. I wanted to show everyone I was the smartest person at Rice. I switched again, this time dropping my economics major to add computational and applied math.

This is about the time I started to figure out that I was not, in fact, an exceptionally smart person at Rice. I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences. It’s not a fun feeling. Around the start of my sophomore year, I began to emotionally withdraw. By the next semester in the spring of 2014, I was circling the drain. I had spent the holidays telling relatives I was going to work in insurance or finance – what do you do with a CAAM degree, anyway? – but I had no interest in pursuing either field. I wasn’t leaving my bed. It was becoming clear I wouldn’t be back for the next semester.

That brings us back to 59 Diner. I told my mom I was done. I gave up, and that was the right decision. I was at school for all the wrong reasons. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was choosing classes because my friends were in them, or because they seemed hard (and thus a good way to flex on my friends) — not because they pertained to anything I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

So I dropped out. I spent three years doing the things I’d always wanted to — bumming around the western U.S. in my minivan, working as a chairlift operator at a Colorado ski resort, teaching sailing to Boy Scouts in Galveston — but I started to feel unsatisfied during my third winter in Colorado. I was struggling to pay my bills, cook for myself and do the other thousand things that come with living on your own. Though the jobs I worked were fun, they were usually menial, and I felt like there was more I could do with my life. I had dreams. I finally knew what I wanted to do with my degree: I wanted to be a reporter.

It was at that point, and not a moment before, that I was ready to go to college. I never had been. When I matriculated in 2012, I was after prestige, popularity and creative ways to intoxicate myself. Today, though, I’m chasing my dream career. I have a vision, and college is the only way to make it a reality. The everyday minutiae of life in college don’t bother me so much anymore. After years dealing with bad bosses, harsh weather and overdraft fees, papers and problem sets are a relief. Most importantly, though, I was prepared to work hard.

So, if you find yourself wondering why the hell you’re at Rice, maybe the answer is to get away for a little while and figure it out. There’s no shame in taking life at your own pace.

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