The Other Columbus: I could have been amazing 20 years ago

Scott Woods
Scott Woods

After being expelled from Columbus Alternative High School following a laughable freshman year, my mother skipped right over my home school (Marion Franklin High School, where, based on my behavior at CAHS, I surely would have become a supervillain) and enrolled me at the now-deceased Father Wehrle High School, a property the fire department now routinely sets ablaze to train new recruits. 

Upon barely graduating from Wehrle, I was a budding architect. I had always loved drawing buildings growing up, and was stoked to discover there was a job for which “drawing buildings” was pretty much the job description. Thanks to a program designed to make respectable Black men out of boys by making them wear ties on Saturdays, I found my way into an internship at the lauded firm Moody Nolan the summer before my entry to Ohio State University.

Thanks to my interest in a field that almost no Black child in the city was interested in, I was shuttled directly into OSU’s School of Architecture from day one. I had a proper major walking into the door, and was able to skip over some classes that were typically filler for freshmen.

The problem was that one week into life on campus I realized I no longer wanted to be an architect. And in short order, I was expelled from not only the School of Architecture for failing every class, but OSU altogether. It had to be the fastest turnaround rate of any student that has ever attended the university.

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Surprising no one, I received zero scholarships in aid of college. My mother paid for my very special episode of "A Different World" out of her pocket. When I had cleared out of my barely warm dorm room and moved back home, she demanded I still go to school. I told her I wanted to major in film, another passion of my high school years, but one that, at the time, had real-world potential. Spike Lee was several movies into his career and ‘hood clones had started to make waves in the industry. People that looked like me were making movies and telling stories I could relate to. It was a glorious time to be young, gifted and Black.

My mother, however, made it old-school clear that she wasn’t going to pay for that. If I wanted to switch majors, fine, but it would still have to be something that would net a “real” job. We split the difference: I went to Columbus State Community College, and after about a year or so of pretending to go to classes, dropped out.

At this point I’m probably throwing mad anti-authority vibes, but that’s not really what my recurring failures were about. I loved the concept of school, of going someplace and learning how to do things that would enable me to contribute to humanity beyond being a consumer cog or a political battery. The problem is that schools aren’t set up to educate in that fashion. They’re designed to weed out the curious and to fleece you for your dough while figuring out that you don’t need half the stuff you studied to survive in the real world.

I think of all this now with more years behind me than in front of me, and I consider how far I’ve come as a self-made man. I’ve done so much more than anyone predicted, and I’ve done it largely my way. I own a business that is solidly weathering a pandemic and recession. I get to create for a living. I’ve won an Emmy and numerous local awards. I am supported by my community. All of this makes me free in important and fulfilling ways.

But I could have been this dope 20 years ago if I didn’t have to worry about paying for college.

It is infuriating to see liberals debate over whether or not student debt should be forgiven now, on the cusp of installing an administration that could actually pull it off. Instead of debating whether or not student debt should be forgiven, we should all be working toward making college free. And part of setting that up as a social value (which it must become in order to stick) is to forgive the debts that are outstanding.

I expect conservatives to argue against debt forgiveness — it’s right there in their name — but liberals should, you know, be more liberal on this one. You could have had 10 Scott Woods movies by now, and I’m awesome at movie ideas. If I could have just changed my major and slid into something I actually wanted to do for the rest of my life without my mother having to worry if I was going to die in a gutter trying to be amazing, we all would have won that lottery.

This is one of those things that, no matter what political stripe you are, you should just be quiet if you don’t like it. If they do it right, and they shake the fleas out correctly, we all win with free education.