By MAGGIE McLEAN
Janelle Dupuis thought she was pursuing her passion. People always told her how much talent she had for photography, so she thought it was a natural next step to apply to Mackenzie College in Moncton, New Brunswick.
“Tuition was $25,000 or something like that, and you had to buy an expensive camera,” said Dupuis. “The MacBook and software was supposed to be included in the tuition. I was very excited to go, but being 18 I was very immature at that time to make a $25,000 choice.”
After most students graduate high school, they’ll spend their summer slaving away at a job they hate to raise money for a higher education. For many, college or university is a place to prosper and find your passion in life. It’s the logical next step after high school.
But not everyone is ready for this next step. Then they find themselves in over their heads or stuck in a program that they despise.
It didn’t take long for Dupuis to see that she’d made the wrong choice. She couldn’t focus in her classes because all she could think about how much money she was spending on a program that she didn’t actually feel passionate about.
“All I could imagine was me later in life taking Walmart portraits trying to pay off this massive debt,” said Dupuis.
Dupuis realized that she didn’t need a certificate to practice photography. She simply needed to have the passion for it. She quit the program, thousands of dollars of debt following behind her.
“It ended up being an expensive mistake because I had to pay for those two months of college, and the Mac, and the one thousand dollars’ worth of software. I am still paying my student loan for just that five years later, and will be paying for another four.”
Dupuis realized she wanted a career that would allow her to help people, so she ended up taking an affordable course in human services that not only left her with more employment options, but also taught her a lot about herself.
She wishes she would have waited before making such an expensive first decision, but her life wouldn’t have turned out the way it did if she hadn’t. In the end, she can’t entirely regret it.
“I wouldn’t have met my husband or had my daughter if I wouldn’t have moved to Moncton
before I was ready, so everything happens for a reason.”
Arika McLean started out wanting to become a lawyer. Now, she’s a tattoo apprentice.
“I initially went to university to get my undergrad in sociology and eventually go to law school,” said McLean. “About halfway through my second semester, I realized that in three years from now I might change my mind and not want to go to law school, which would leave me with a degree that I would do nothing with.”
McLean then changed her mind and decided she would go to Oulton College and become a certified paralegal. This way, she reasoned that she’d be able to figure out if she liked the field enough to be completely committed to law school.
“I thought I found the job I was best suited for until I talked to another paralegal. I asked her how long she had been working there and when she replied 25 years my heart stopped and that’s when I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
McLean worked as waitress for a while until she could figure out whether or not she wanted to go back to university. She had no idea what she wanted to do in life.
She’d been working for two months when her boyfriend went to put down a deposit on a tattoo. While talking to the tattoo artist, her boyfriend mentioned how much McLean loved art. This led to showing the tattoo artist McLean’s work, and he was immediately interested.
“The artist then told him he was looking for an apprentice and he was really interested in my work,” said McLean. “So he asked him to pass along the invitation to come in and see if I was interested in tattooing.”
McLean is now apprenticing at Madd Hatter Ink in Miramichi. She still can’t believe the turn of events that led her to this field.
“It’s kind of weird because if you told me I’d be where I am right now, to the person I was a year ago, I wouldn’t have believed you – and it’s been like that for three years now.”
Sometimes, it isn’t the field that stops people, but the environment they find themselves in. Josie Perdue knew she wanted to be a teacher one day, but the path she had to take to get there ended up being a lot more work than she thought it would be.
She enrolled at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton fresh out of high school. It was a last-minute decision that ended up causing her a lot of stress in the long run.
“I chose Engineering-1, because my best friend was applying for it,” said Perdue. “So we’re off to a great start, right?”
By the time Perdue realized that Engineering wasn’t the program for her, it was too late to drop out. She felt like her “scholarly” classmates were on a level that she couldn’t compete with.
“My science grades were incredible in high school, but they were mediocre in university and I was trying my absolute hardest. There was so much daily content and such a heavy work load, and on top of three different evening labs and nine classes a week, I was barely staying afloat.”
At first, she thought it was just engineering that was the problem. Perdue made plans to switch into one of UNB’s art programs, but she soon realized that the school itself was causing her stress as well.
“I was a number among several students. There were three hundred students in my Physics class and only 19 of them were girls. I’d never actually spoken to any of my profs face to face. The hills were unbearable, and I really just didn’t feel like I belonged.”
Perdue eventually started doing poorly on assignments and never went to class. She was placed on academic probation until finally, when the UNB professors went on strike in 2014, she saw her chance and officially dropped out.
She applied to St. Thomas University, but the five months between when she dropped out and when the fall semester started were hard for her. She had enough money saved that she didn’t need to get a job, so she would stay home and do nothing.
When she finally got to STU, she realized it was where she needed to be. The whole experience taught her the value of doing things that made her happy and taking each day at a time.
“I look back on those days, now, and laugh at how terribly out of place I was,” said Perdue. “I’m a total kid and everyone around me at UNB was super sophisticated and intellectual and intelligent. I stood out like a sore thumb in group projects. STU’s been perfect for me”
Alex Tracy-Gould found himself in a similar situation, but his problems weren’t solved by switching schools or choosing another field. The truth is, university just isn’t the path for some people.
Tracy-Gould was attending Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. He found himself in a position where he wasn’t going to class and finding excuses to put off work. Eventually, he failed his first class ever.
“After that it was a massive drop off,” said Tracy-Gould. “I stopped going to class almost entirely, and decided I wasn’t coming back after second semester when I had failed 40 per cent of a course not even halfway through.
“I started thinking about if I was really doing something I wanted to be doing or if I was capable of, and decided this just wasn’t a time in my life when I could be in university.”
Tracy-Gould made the decision to move home after that. He started working a lot and shifted his focus from school to music. He’s currently in a band called Våras. The band recently self-released an EP and has been playing shows across New Brunswick, including the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival.
At this point, Tracy-Gould doesn’t know if he’ll even return to university in the near future.
“So far it’s been way better,” said Tracy-Gould. “Work is nice and our music has been received really well by people, so I’m honestly a lot happier this way.”
Taylor Sheasgreen also left college to pursue a musical career. For him, it was probably the best decision he could have made.
Sheasgreen has been playing guitar for most of his life. He moved from Miramichi to Nova Scotia to take a Music Arts course in an effort to learn more as a musician and expand his skills. He made the decision directly out of high school without taking the time to think about it.
“I got a student loan and an apartment and went head-first into a course that had a reputation for making better musicians out of people,” said Sheasgreen.
It was lonely being as far away from home as he was, and he realized that although the course was giving him valuable skills as a musician, he didn’t see himself getting a job out of it. So, he quit the course and moved home.
Six years later, he doesn’t regret the choice at all. The brief amount of time he spent in the course did make him a better musician, which contributes to the way he’s spending his life now.
“Now, I’m a guitar teacher and in a touring rock band and we’re doing pretty well for ourselves.”
Sheasgreen is the lead guitarist of the rock band Lionsault. The band has won multiple awards, including Music New Brunswick’s Fans’ Choice and Members’ Choice of 2016. Their song “In The Wild” was recently selected as the goal song for the Moncton Wildcats hockey team. If Sheasgreen hadn’t made the choices he had, none of this might have happened.
“It’s funny because I was pretty miserable by the time I left the course, but it actually ended up changing my life for the better and taught me a lot,” said Sheasgreen. “It goes to show you that no matter how difficult or awful things may seem, you never know when you’re in the middle of a life lesson that you may be happy for later on in life.”