In June of 2006 I became a homeschool graduate. It was with a tinge of regret, to be honest, because I learned to love school and studying so much throughout the past years. But at the same time, it was a special and satisfying occasion.

I was paging through my old portfolios recently, looking over pictures of projects and field trips, reading an original story or poem tucked in among the English assignments I had penned years ago; and I was struck with the thought that these portfolios were more than just school files; they were the chronicles of each year of my growing and education--in a way, each one represented a chapter out of my life.

During my high school grades, I began to take over handling much of my education on my own, which was a great help, as my mother was then teaching my younger sisters the earlier grades. We would research the requirements for each grade and then I was able to choose the books and methods I most preferred to learn with.

Putting together those school portfolios for state evaluation was an exciting project at the end of each period. I think it was seeing all the work I'd done throughout the year come together to show yet another milestone of my learning, an example of the progress that really did come through our perseverance and God's blessing.

No, I didn't always love to study; I remember the years when I didn't enjoy sitting down to a workbook or textbook and getting involved in my lesson. But that changed when, thankfully, we found out several years ago just how simple homeschooling can be; how much freedom there is to make it fill your own individual needs and move at the pace that works best.

I think another one of the greatest things that brought about my change in thinking was that of looking ahead. I realized that learning and working now is building and shaping my own character as well as my future, and that all education in every form--whether textbook or a lesson of life--blends together and is intertwined in our knowledge, in our growth.

While I looked forward to being finished, I was in no hurry. Because the object really isn't just the diploma, it is the developing and the foundation for life that it represents. It is making the most out of those years.

I am conscious that homeschooling has done so much more for me than any other method could have done. We had the time and opportunity to emphasize so many other important things and develop in them, learning through many more media than the classroom alone; and the feeling that this is good, that it is patterned after logic and common sense.

Now that my twelfth grade books have been put away, I certainly don't intend to be done learning. Our childhood education prepares our minds to be absorbing and being enriched for the rest of our lives. I want to go on to do things I've always aspired to do, meeting new people, trying new things. I have been interested in volunteering for years now, in nursing homes or orphanages, or perhaps community work.

Besides this, I want to further my writing career and my musical inclinations. Obviously, I have always been extremely ambitious. However, my ideas for the near future have developed and become more and more rational during my later high school years.

College may still be in my future, but I do not wish to begin that until I have a specific goal in mind and something to focus on. Until then, I have been blessed with the opportunity to pursue a profession of medical transcription through a correspondence course. Before I began high school, this home-based career caught my attention and my mother's, and it is exciting to be moving toward it.

We named our homeschool "Higher Heights Academy" and chose a mott Rising with Purpose. My diploma has a seal on the cover that says "Education--Character--Excellence in Homeschooling." And all of these things are very fitting descriptions. All of you who are a part of this unequalled educational experience, keep up the good work and take a minute to count your blessings. Don't be discouraged by complications or overwhelmed by unnecessary worries, but instead realize what a unique path you are traveling.

There's nothing like the love of learning ... it's for life!

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Jessica Eve deCastro, 18 years old and the eldest in a family of five girls, lives in Down East Maine on nearly fifty wooded acres. Jessica, her family, and several relatives are in the process of starting a small farm. She has a variety of interests and ambitions, including becoming a wife and homeschooling mother someday.

Copyright 2007. Originally appeared in Winter 2006/7. Used with permission. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Right now, 19 free gifts when you subscribe. www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com