In elementary school and junior high, I was a bad little boy. You could find me in the principal's office almost every day.
I remember my fourth grade teacher telling me, "Joshua if you don't do your work, I will flunk you." I didn't even know the meaning of the word flunk, until the next year when I showed up at a 5th grade class and they told me I was still in the 4th grade. I think that was the moment I stopped caring.
After that, no matter how hard I worked, it felt like I would never catch up. By the time I got to middle school, I flunked two more grades.
People told me to step my game up, that high school was when it really mattered. So, in the 10th grade I started to get serious about school. For the next three years I did all my work and I got better grades. I had dreams of being an artist for Pixar, creating animated movies. But at the end of my senior year, my family started falling apart. I was just four credits away from a diploma when my mom sent me out of state to live with my grandma. I never graduated.
Now, when I get calls from art schools, I don't get excited because I know what they're going to ask me at the end of the call. "Do you have a GED or high school diploma?" "No," I say, "No, I do not."
Without a GED, I feel like I only have a 20% chance of finding success — living comfortably and achieving my dreams. I've even been given opportunities to get a GED, but it would mean giving up my part-time job. Without that, I'd have to go back to asking my grandma and aunt for money to buy food and clothes — which I don't want to do.
So for now I'm keeping my job, even though it doesn't pay enough for me to ever get ahead. Without a high school diploma, sometimes life feels like a game I can't win.
With a Perspective, I'm Joshua Clayton.
Joshua Clayton is 20 years old and lives in Oakland. His Perspective was produced by Youth Radio.