We have a new addition to our family: Kate. If you haven’t read about her, please click over to my career blog and read the story.

That’s Kate, with my youngest son. And our 15 cats. For the past month I have been answering questions about Kate:

Is that your daughter? How long will she be there? Aren’t you scared she’ll steal from you?

I have also been fielding a lot of advice.

She needs a job!

Don’t get her a dog!

She should get a GED first.

That’s when I realized: Kate is a homeschooling topic. Kate told me, “I was good at school… Well. When I went. I didn’t really go enough to be good at school. But I would have been good.”

I think what she means by that is that she is curious and smart. Which is definitely true. It’s just that when kids don’t have a consistent place to live, they don’t have a reliable way to get to school. And you know what schools do in that case? They expel the student. Kate tells me that she was never officially expelled but she stayed with kids who were expelled which made it even harder to get to school.

When I first started trying to organize Kate’s life, we handled emergencies like health insurance, warm clothes and sleeping pills because her nightmares never go away. But there was one other emergency: her high school diploma.

The school told her that if she didn’t enroll in a program to graduate then she’d lose her chance to get a diploma. She was panicking. She was scared to move out of Florida because doing so would make her ineligible for her diploma.

My advice: Forget the diploma.

I realized that I could help her get jobs to figure out what she likes to do. When you are applying for an internship and you look like you are on top of your game, no one asks if you graduated high school. And if she wants to go to college, we can say she homeschooled, and she can talk about how she spent her childhood worrying where her next meal will come from, and where she will sleep next.

Both employers and colleges know that the GED is for kids who couldn’t get through the system. That’s much different from homeschooling, which is kids who embarked on their own, alternative system. The GED is a distraction from your real purpose as an almost-twentysomething, which is to explain why you are special and different and will make a good employee or a good student and most of all, a good member of the community you’d like to be a part of.

Kate does not need any seal of approval from a high school or a testing center. And neither do the other kids in this world who have spent their childhood years doing meaningful and remarkable things.


23 replies
  1. Sarah Fowler
    Sarah Fowler says:

    I was homeschooled (I finished high school in 2003), and I don’t have a high school diploma. I have a bachelor’s degree… still no diploma.

    Good friend of mine at work is in his mid-50s and EXTREMELY successful. Dropped out when he was 16 and never got his GED.

    No worries :)

    • Dana
      Dana says:

      Hi Sarah, just curious: How did you get into college without a diploma? What’s your degree in? we need to talk. I want to give you my personal email and cell.


  2. Dana
    Dana says:

    Interesting …
    My 18-year old son on the spectrum came TWO credits short of graduating from high school last spring. He was miserable (with the exception of his music classes) in high school and refused to go back to finish up. I have to admit, I’ve been really hung up on this.
    Maybe – just maybe – this is about me and my hangups far more than it is about him and his potential for success.
    I hope that is true.

  3. Madeleine
    Madeleine says:

    I’m glad Kate found you.

    I read some of the advice offered by fearful commenters on the other post – it is clear that they have not had the experience of being born into an unstable home. There’s an emotional shorthand that people with this experience share, and anyone who hasn’t been there will never understand. It made me sad to think of people worrying about something as trivial about stealing when Kate was worried about where she would live and how she would survive. I’m glad you get it.

    I’m interested to see how your story unfolds together. Thanks for sharing your home with someone who needs it, and your thoughts with us.

  4. Thi
    Thi says:

    It’s true. One of my friends got into MIT early (after junior year) and our school wouldn’t give him an honorary diploma. So he dropped out. But who cares? You’re right, it doesn’t matter.

  5. Homeschool Sweet Homeschool
    Homeschool Sweet Homeschool says:

    I think Kate has a lot of chance to be with you, but also your family has a great opportunity to do something, your kids will learn a lot about life with this young girl. Sometimes, our kids don’t understand the chance they have to live a “normal” life…

  6. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    In some states, schools are required to give you a HS diploma after you complete a full year of college work.

    I left high school after 10th grade (we lived in Pennsylvania that year), and after a year in college, my ex-school in PA coughed up a HS degree for me – put me in the yearbook and everything.

    Florida does not have a similar system, but Wisconsin does. It’s called the HSED. The residency requirement is only 10 days in Wisconsin. Kate may be able to get a HSED from WI without ever stepping foot in a high school again or taking a GED test.

    Good on you, PT. Your children will never forget your demonstration of living ethically through deeds of loving kindness.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is such helpful information! Thanks.
      Also, I’m am starting to think that the number of loopholes in a system is commensurate to how useless the system is. It’s like the poetic justice of bureaucracy.


  7. Gretchen
    Gretchen says:

    Your kindness is striking and I think you’re probably right about the GED thing. With you coaching her, she’ll be fine. Without a savvy adult guiding her and priming her, though…not so much.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Without a savvy adult guiding her and priming her, though…not so much.

      I think you highlight an important piece of human development. We all, including kids, need someone wiser to help guide us. Without that, the struggle is immense and almost unrecoverable.

  8. Ann Marie
    Ann Marie says:

    I think what many people don’t understand is how much we gain by lending a hand in a meaningful way to another person. I’m pretty certain each member of your family is finding that their relationship with Kate is enriching their lives.

    Kate, you are a remarkable young woman! You were dealt an unfair hand and could easily have become a person who hates everyone and everything. Instead, you elected to remain hopeful. I’m so glad you found a person, who will do the best she can to protect and nurture you, as you prepare for adulthood. It takes courage to accept help and express gratitude, which is so odd, when you think about it, because we all need help and lots of it! I imagine you do both with grace to spare.

    Wishing you all the best!

  9. Trilby
    Trilby says:

    It’s so unfortunate when people believe that they can’t accomplish anything great because they didn’t graduate from high school. Or that they can’t move forward in their lives without going back to sign off on that step. Thank you for guiding Kate to focus on the path ahead. I hope she’s sees the world as being full of opportunity for her.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I coach so many people who think they are stuck because they don’t have a diploma. But it’s all mental. Because any job that would be good over the long-term is not a job that requires a diploma.

      We each want to be judged on our merits and our past accomplishments. A diploma is something you get for just showing up, which is not an accomplishment based on something special that you did to stand out.


  10. C.A. Lewis-McCarren
    C.A. Lewis-McCarren says:

    I’ll be glad when we can get past the perceived milestones of “education”…..or being “educated”. If you really think about it – and obviously many readers on here do – it is so asinine and a huge mismanagement/waste of time. LIFE is so much more than a text book of theories to memorize or check marks of accomplishment. I sit back at times and just watch people in my community chase their tails because they don’t know any better or have never been “TAUGHT” to think beyond the obvious. Maybe I do this to boost my own ego because I dropped out of HS and did get my GED and then learned that it totally didn’t matter. I was humbled and lost. Humbled because I was suddenly thrust into the real world and didn’t know the first thing about truly taking care of myself (had to learn to ASK for help) and then lost because I was expected (or so I thought) to have my whole life mapped out by the age of 19. What will you do? Where will you live? How will you do this?

    Kate reminds me of myself at that age and she also reminds me that I was not as brave as her. She is brave because she took the opportunity Penelope has given her and accepted it with not being able to give much in return at this point. Not give back by $$, but by the human gifts that we all bestowe upon those that share in our lives.

    I could be totally wrong, but right now Kate needs the love, support and encouragement that only a consistent healthy family environment can offer. It isn’t enough to just let someone who needs help in so many ways to just “live” with you. You have to open yourself up and make yourself vulnerable to them. Give more than you take. Love more than you think you are able and often times bare the burdens they they are struggling with/through. You have to be willing to take all of that on and then some.

    Kate will at some point be able to unfold and breath in peace. At some point she will be able to sleep and truly know what rested feels like. One morning she will wake up and know it is the right time for her to focus on her path and move forward with it. She will be able to give abundantly without depleting herself in so many necessary ways.

    I am glad she is with you Penelope. I for one can understand the total insanity of trying to “help” her along with this/that and other things in life that she needs to be “successful” in her own way/right – but right now those things are conducive to her basic health – mind, body, soul. Love, warmth, acceptance of where she is at and encouragement…..let that be her certificate of achievement for right now. It is a beautiful journey out of the muck on the slow road…… One must master life – not life master them.

    • C.A. Lewis-McCarren
      C.A. Lewis-McCarren says:

      but right now those things are conducive to her basic health – mind, body, soul.]…..I meant “AREN’T”. (see….I’m still trying to learn how to write correctly!!! oy!)

  11. t
    t says:

    I love this reminder. YES! I’m really envious of my youngest sibling who dropped out of h.s. at 16. I thought I *had* to stay. What a waste of my time, and it took ‘forever’ to establish well-being.

  12. Moses
    Moses says:

    First the cats. Those are so many. In Kenya where I am from they would all be dead. I dont know why.
    It is so fascinating how people think about homeschooling in the US. I thought about that when I was in Form Two (that is equivalent to 10th grade there? I am not quite sure.That is year two in high school. Kenyan context)I wonder why I struggle to explain that. But the point is I stopped reading hard for exams and sought to attend classes just to know and did my exams without working so hard. I feel I am okay. It is so hard to homeschool in Kenya where the parents do not even know anything about school. So they have to be schooled for them to homeschool their children. Is that right?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’m not so sure that kids need parents who are schooled in order to have homeschooling parents. I think rather kids need parents who can support the kids’ natural curiosity. Most kids in poor countries are worrying about a lot of things –food, safety, for example – which undermines their natural ability to learn from their environment.

      This is a story of kids who needed no adult help whatsoever to learn to read and write code to reprogram their ipads.



  13. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Kate showed some much courage telling you how bad things were, and you and your family are doing something truly remarkable for her. You really need no plan, other than for her to begin to discover herself. I can think of no better place for that to happen. What a lucky young woman!

  14. Stacey
    Stacey says:

    Sometimes I hate my job, I hate the area where I live, and I hate that I’m the working spouse and my husband is the stay-at-home dad. And that means that sometimes I hate just about everything that I’m doing with my life right now. Then I think about your title of the first post about Kate: Focus on one good thing. When I get in this whorl of negativity, those are inspiring words. I think that maybe all this that I’m dissatisfied with in my life has given my daughter stability – stability that I never had as a kid. That is one good thing I can focus on now. And that helps.

    So here’s a second “good on ya!” I hope it all works out well for Kate, you, and your family.


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