Laura McGuire went from being a high school dropout to a doctor of education — in less than 5 years. “Fielding was a huge part of my success. I mean that with my whole heart,” says McGuire, who hopes that her education-is-empowerment story inspires others and guides them on their own journeys of self-discovery.
By Alum Laura McGuire, EdD
I believe in education more than anything on Earth. I believe that the answer to almost every problem facing us as individuals, communities, countries, and as a planet is based in education. I believe in it so much that I got my doctorate in education, with a focus on inclusive sex education.
I believe in education because it saved me. At 23, I was in an abusive relationship, had a toddler in tow, my husband was out of work, and I hadn’t finished high school. School always felt defeating and laborious—it caused my chronic anxiety to go through the roof. Instead, I had decided to marry someone who was “smart” (since I sincerely believed I wasn’t). So, when a seemly sweet aerospace engineer came along, I was easily swept away by his promises of a better life. Within months of being legally tied to each other, it became apparent that I was gay. But what was worse was the way he treated me. His outbursts bled into his work life, which cost him his job, and my ticket to security quickly unraveled. I had to face the facts—I wasn’t going to be able to dig myself or my child out of this mess without at least a GED in hand.
The day I went to the tutoring center, I cried my way through an entire box of Kleenex. I sat down at the computer to take my placement exam, but genuinely couldn’t remember anything I learned in high school. I wept with my whole body, convinced that this was the end of the road for me. Luckily, I met the most amazing mentor and tutor I could have imagined. She told me to breathe, focus, and to decide to push forward. I did, and slowly but surely, my memory came back and things got better. The day I got my test results back (and found out that I passed!), I cried again—but this time, out of pure relief and exuberant joy.
“I felt as though wings had just sprouted from my back and a voice in my heart whispered clear as day, ‘You are free.’” -Dr. Laura McGuire. Photo by Hannah Olson.
I decided to try for college. Maybe I could get an associate’s degree? I was so nervous throughout this whole journey that, on top of continuing with my tutor, I hired a therapist as well. Everyday I was overwhelmed by worry, yet everyday I knew that staying where I was in life wasn’t an option. I had to press on and education was my only ticket to a better life. I found an amazing school, Thomas Edison State College, that worked with adult learners to create flexible and self–paced degree plans. I started reading textbooks and testing out of courses. I quickly learned that, not only could I get my education, I could do so in record time. Twelve months later, I had a second baby and my bachelor’s degree.
The day I received my diploma was the most profound day of my life. I stood in the Wauchula, Florida post office, opened the package, and saw the Bachelor of Arts degree, awarded to me, Laura McGuire. The most out–of–body feeling swept over me like a wave of light. I felt as though wings had just sprouted from my back and a voice in my heart whispered clear as day, “You are free.”
The next time my husband raged, I told him to leave. One month later, I paid for my divorce. A year later, I was out as a lesbian and certified as a health and social studies teacher in the state of Florida. I immediately went on to graduate school and two years later, I had my Doctor of Education from Fielding Graduate University, an amazing institution that focuses on social justice and systemic reform. Throughout this time, I taught teen girls who were in, or at high risk of being part of, the juvenile justice system. I learned so much from them, showed them how education was transforming my life, and taught them how all the things we hadn’t been given in life could be purchased with knowledge.
As a member of many marginalized and minority communities, I know just how important education is—especially for those who have been historically denied it. The forces against us are fierce, and feeling hopeless and disheartened can be all too real. But this I know for sure: education is the only way to begin to truly change the world, and to change it for good.
In June 2018, I launched my consulting and expert witness firm, The National Center for Equity and Agency. Our aim is to do just that—to change the world through education, inquiry, and empowerment. It is no easy task, but nothing worth doing ever is. Wherever you are and whatever you do, take heart in this part of my story—if your life is not a story you want to be living, it can be changed. Walk out and begin a new book. Your future is waiting, and education has the power to get you there.
Originally published on Spectrum South