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How College Can Be an Escape From Abusive Home Life

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College: the dream that a lot of kids work their entire lives for, in order to obtain scholarships, good letters of recommendation and high ACT/SAT scores. Going away to school for the first time is exciting because students get to be away from their parents, experience adulthood and support themselves for the first time. What does the word college mean for those who come from broken places?

Growing up, I never had a lot. Money was always tight, and food wasn’t always readily available. My parents were never home, and when they were it was a mixture of arguments and verbal abuse thrown in my direction. I lived directly next door to the person who sexually assaulted me; this made things 100 times harder.

My grades throughout high school went up and down depending on my emotional ability to perform normal, everyday tasks. I skipped school mostly so I could sleep and to avoid the pain of going to a place I hated almost as much as home. I laid in bed for most days of my high school career, crying and being lucky if I were able to move to even use the bathroom and shower.

Whenever I applied to West Virginia University, I felt a ping of hope. I hadn’t felt that in a long time; by applying to college, I knew I had a one-way ticket out of my situation. I had a chance to make it better, and be better too; any failure I experienced was now in my own hands.

Whenever I began my first semester of college in August 2016, I felt a weight that laid on my chest for years be lifted within minutes. I was no longer in an unsafe environment, constantly looking over my shoulder to see if my attacker was following me; instead, I confidently walked down the streets of Morgantown, West Virginia with friends I had made, laughing carelessly. I became a new person, and a better one too.

College became a place of comfort and resources for me. I had access to three meals a day, laundry, mental health facilities and so much more. My life was able to function the way I had always wanted it to.

My biggest piece of advice I could ever give anyone is this: school comes first, always. Education is the best way to escape unfortunate circumstances and become better. Being a good student goes so, so much farther than a report card. The precedents you set during high school can (and will) affect the rest of your life. If you are experiencing abuse at home, know that it all ends after you turn your tassel in May. Once you are left alone for the first time in your dorm, scared and excited, you will feel the best you ever have.

Do well in school. Be a good student. Take standardized testing seriously. Know that you can escape, and that you will. Take it from someone who thought it would never end.

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Shan Cawley
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Shannon Cawley is an author and full-time student based in Morgantown, West Virginia. Her first chapbook, "depression is a thunderstorm and i am a scared dog" is set to be released by Maudlin House Press during the summer of 2017. In her free time, Shan works at her dorm's dining hall, involves herself in numerous extracurricular activities, and advocates for sexual assault victims as well as sufferers of mental illness.

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