Dropout bomb threat: Managing the conversation with family

Danielle Shea made headlines after calling in bomb threats to disrupt Quinnipiac University's commencement, hoping to keep her parents from discovering she dropped out of school. Wouldn't a family meeting have been easier?

Patrick Raycraft/AP
Danielle Shea, 22, trying to keep her family from learning she had dropped out of college, called in bomb threats to the commencement ceremony at Quinnipiac University this past weekend, according to police. Ms. Shea was charged with threatening in the first degree at Meriden Superior Court in Meriden, Conn., Monday May 19.

Have you ever done something that embarrassed your family? Danielle Shea and I have.  

On Sunday, 22-year old Ms. Shea called in two bomb threats to campus security right before the graduation ceremony at Quinnipiac University. She had dropped out of college without telling her family, and didn’t want them to find out. While I haven’t made any bomb threats, I have dropped out of college – and can empathize with her emotional pain, if not her methods. 

At the time, the decision to leave college was easy. I had a great job offer, making much more money than the part-time job I had at the time, paying only $6.50 an hour. I knew I had thousands of dollars in student loan debt already racked up at that point, and the college I attended had just decided to raise tuition costs before my last year.

Plus, I never really found a group of friends at school. Most people already knew each other from high school or sports, and because I came in as a sophomore, I had missed the chance to be invited to the freshman mixers. Finding my groove socially just never worked out, no matter how many times I invited people I knew from class for coffee or a study group.

I also had a nagging urge to be more independent – to make something of myself outside the confines of my immediate family. Attending school just 40 minutes away from home felt like it was tying me down and stifling my ability to blossom as a newly-minted adult. 

But there were so many questions to field from family members when I left school. They asked if I could stick it out for one more year before finding a job, making the case that a diploma would be much more desirable to employers. They tried to calm my fears about student loan debt, promising me that I was in good company, and a good job would quickly cover the gap. As for friends at school, my family urged me that if I relaxed and aimed to just be myself, friends would come along too.

As many students have found since the great recession, finding jobs and paying back student debt is not that simple. But thankfully, once I had answered all their concerns, my family did support my decision. They realized that I wasn’t a deadbeat – that I actually had major career goals, and I was going after them tenaciously. A couple years after dropping out, I attended night school and earned a professional studies certificate, showing that while college was no longer part of my five-year plan, education was still important to me and remains that way today.  

When I think about my daughter eventually graduating from high school and perhaps going on to college, I feel really torn. On the one hand, I see the value of the traditional path of attending a four-year college, graduating, and then finding a great job that pays the bills and student loans. 

But on the other hand, from my experience, I know that life is not always that black and white, and that she may decide to forge a path that’s all her own, like I did.  And as the cost of a college education continues to rise, the case for that path weakens.

One thing’s for sure – I will support her and be there for her, striving to avoid judging her decisions. She’ll know what’s best for her. If she makes a mistake, she’ll backtrack or forge ahead, trailblazing her own way to success. 

I just pray she will be comfortable confiding in me if she does drop out of college – no bomb threats needed.

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