I am educated because when life split me open I learned how to sew.
I am educated because when I didn't know what path to take, I created my own.
I am educated because when I don't know I ask, when I am unsure I say it, when I sense another person's pain I allow my heart to listen harder than my head.
I am educated because I see the value in the observer and the listener not simply the person who can best regurgitate what they are told. I have found lessons in the mundane, in the joy of living, the terror of pain. I am educated because I have fought a good fight to carve my own path despite being told it can't be done.
I have found understanding through solitude, acceptance through rejection, empathy through experience, love through vile words, faith by defining my own god which is no god at all.
I am educated because I have sought out my own answers by simply asking questions, by my own insatiable curiosity.
I am educated because I have committed my life to observing all human life: interactions, subtleties, unspoken words, body language. Seeing love through hate, pain through embellished strength, sadness through perceived joy, ignorance through false wisdom.
I have seen the paper trail so many people carry around, tethered to their self-worth, and have learned that intelligence cannot be bought. The letters behind your name mean nothing if you can't remember mine.
Intelligence is empathy.
Intelligence is humility.
Intelligence in vulnerability.
I am educated because I accept my weaknesses as a part of the whole. I allow for my personal shortcomings to reveal themselves so that I can see them more clearly; so that I can slowly chip away at them, reshaping them into pieces that better fit the whole. I am educated because I don't deny my imperfections, I don't cower away from a personal attack, rather I use any form of criticism as a platform for growth. I don't claim to have the answers, I don't have any answers at all. I am educated because I didn't stop asking questions once I left the classroom.
And I am not alone. There is power in formal education but there is also great power in choosing another way. These words I write are not for me but for us: we who chose the road less travelled, who took life into our own hands when it tried to make us feel weak. These words are for the women who have taken all their pain and turned it into power; for the women who found peace with their past so that they could imagine their future; for the women who choose to be quietly fierce or shamelessly bold or find a way to do both with grace and elegance. I write today for the community of women I know I belong to even though I don't know your names, I know your hearts and I give you mine.
I am educated because I am still alive and everyday opens up a new classroom of possibility, of learning, of growing, of becoming just a little better than the day before.