Jarfaire’s Story of Exploring Life Beyond High School
“I’m not letting my circumstances raise me anymore, I’m going to do everything because I want to do it. I’m doing it by choice, not by circumstance.”
Jarfaire is 24 years old and looking forward to returning to school. After spending nearly five years exploring different career paths, she feels prepared to start classes at a two-year college in the upcoming academic year and hopes to study early childhood development. Describing herself as “a kid at heart,” Jarfaire can’t wait to take her place as a mentor for young minds, including her little sister, and share her life lessons with them.
Jarfaire, however, wasn’t always so certain about post-secondary education. By her sophomore year of high school, Jarfaire knew she wanted to enroll in the army. In the fall of 2017, following graduation from her neighborhood Chicago Public Schools (CPS) high school on the West Side of Chicago, Jarfaire was sent out and trained as a 92 Alpha, one of the army’s Automated Logistical Specialists.
Jarfaire’s Educational Experience
Growing up, Jarfaire was raised by her dad and her aunt. Both fully devoted to Jarfaire, her aunt came to every school event and made sure she knew each and every one of Jarfaire’s teachers. “When it came to my family having a relationship with the staff at my school, I couldn’t have been set up for failure… How could I not succeed?”
“When it came to my family having a relationship with the staff at my school, I couldn’t have been set up for failure… How could I not succeed?”
With her family supporting her from home, Jarfaire was set up for a strong start to high school. At the beginning of her freshman year, Jarfaire learned of the JROTC Service Leadership Programs offered by CPS. With several family members who are veterans, she was familiar with careers in the military but didn’t realize she had the opportunity to gain exposure to it while in high school.
Unlike college ROTC programs, there is no requirement to enroll in the military post-graduation, allowing JROTC Cadets to participate without the pressure of a binding commitment. Nevertheless, what started as a school activity soon grew into a passion Jarfaire wanted to pursue as a career. Jarfaire’s JROTC instructor, Sergeant Major, played a vital role in developing Jarfaire’s sense of self-confidence. “Prior to leaving for the army, [Sergeant Major] made me an instructor of the classroom. It made me proud of myself… I was the head honcho for that class.”
Sergeant Major inspired Jarfaire to imagine how she could extend this experience to life after high school. “I was able to ask him anything… the ins, the outs, the bads, the goods, and I think that’s what pushed me out there. Knowing that someone was being honest and straightforward with me… I thought it would set me up to go further than what I’d ever seen for myself.” Although Sergeant Major did in fact encourage Jarfaire to believe in her capacity to be a leader in the military, she made the decision to enroll on her own. “When the time came, I took it upon myself to go to the recruiting center.”
On top of Jarfaire’s involvement in JROTC, she participated in a paid after-school program that partnered with her high school. “I think it gets kids off the streets, it prepares them to be able to go out there and work,” she said. For Jarfaire, this took form in a beautician certification program. “Knowing that I was working for my own money, it made me happy. It made me proud.” Jarfaire also joined a program that focused on experiential learning and through this program, she was able to speak with recent CPS graduates about their college experiences.
Making Decisions About College
Jarfaire felt strongly that college would be a waste of resources if she went without a specific career to work towards. “I can’t waste money. I can’t. I had to do something that I cherished. You have to cherish college. You gotta focus, and I don’t think I was back then.” Jarfaire noted that she always recognized the additional opportunities a college degree provided, but she felt she couldn’t afford to use the time to explore her interests. And beyond her thoughts about college, her heart was set on joining the army
In reflecting on her time in the army, Jarfaire feels the army developed her confidence in her ability to take on adulthood. “I went there as a kid…and it changed me into a woman. I felt like I came home with patience. I came home knowing what I want out of life.” When she made the decision to enlist, Jarfaire assumed she was following her passion. Now, given time to reflect on her experiences, Jafaire believes it was her familiarity with the military — the way it was organized, the commitment it required, and the benefits it provided — hearing about the experiences of her family and her Sergeant in JROTC that made her feel confident in her decision. Unlike college, Jarfaire felt she knew exactly what to expect in the military.
Unlike college, Jarfaire felt she knew exactly what to expect in the military.
Even so, Jarfaire wishes she spent time in high school learning about college admissions and pathways. She hadn’t filled out any application forms or sat for any college admissions exams her senior year. “I regret that in the long run because I have to ask people to help me and lead me because I never paid attention to anything that had to do with college.”
In spite of her hesitancy to ask for help, Jarfaire knew several of her high school teachers would be willing to support her. “A lot of them was mentors to me. Even after graduating they’ll still hold my hand through the [college] process. I graduated roughly five years ago, and to know that I still got’em to lean on, it’s definitely big for me.”
“A lot of them was mentors to me. Even after graduating they’ll still hold my hand through the [college] process. I graduated roughly five years ago, and to know that I still got’em to lean on, it’s definitely big for me.”
In 2020, Jarfaire reached out to one of her favorite teachers, Ms. S for some help with filling out her FAFSA documents. Ms. S demonstrated a willingness to support Jarfaire’s goals and Jarfaire knew Ms. S was there when she was ready. However, Jarfaire needed to take some time to feel certain in her endeavors. She came back to her applications a year and a half later.
According to Jarfaire, it was very easy to stay in communication with her high school teachers. She feels their lasting impact, noting that her life motto comes from a quote her teacher read to all her students frequently: “Raised by choice, not my circumstance.“ Now that she’s stepped into the world for some time, Jarfaire finds herself resonating with these words even more. “I can’t let my surroundings raise me, I can’t let it push me into something that I don’t want out of life. I can get way more than that — I know I can.”
While making progress on her college applications, Jarfaire has maintained her position as the front desk attendant of a residential building. Although she is eager to return to the classroom, Jarfaire’s job allows her to learn from pilots, firefighters, and police officers when they return home from their long workdays. Motivated by their professional trajectories, Jarfaire believes the two years she’s spent working have given her opportunities to learn from the experiences of others. When asked about the reasoning behind her more recent interest to apply to college, Jarfaire shared, “I see longevity… as I get older, I start thinking about stuff that I can potentially wake up to do and love… I never thought that a degree could put me in a place where I’m happy and content.”
“I see longevity… as I get older, I start thinking about stuff that I can potentially wake up to do and love… I never thought that a degree could put me in a place where I’m happy and content.”
Jarfaire now knows she wants to study early childhood development, and plans to cut down her work hours from full-time to part-time so she can focus on starting college in a couple of months. Excited about the idea of getting a chance to work with kids, Jafaire knows a degree can open new doors for her and help set her up for success. In recent years, she has reached back out to other alumni from the after-school programs that she participated in during high school in order to talk to students who made similar pivots in their post-secondary pathway. “You can speak to other kids and let them know, ‘This isn’t it. You can go far in life.’”
What Jarfaire Found Helpful
- Having trusted adults at her school who both validated her decision not to enroll in college and were reliable sources of support once she did make the decision. “My teacher always told me, ‘You can do anything. If you ever need me, I am always here, but do what your heart desires — like if you keep reaching out to me about it, I’m gonna take it that you want to do it.’”
Jarfaire’s Aspirations for the Field
“I want to see more programs that help kids recognize their abilities, be proud of themselves… I want to show them [the programs are] fun, and they pay you to get work experience.”
Through her participation in JROTC and after-school programs, Jarfaire found immense support from mentors and older peers. In addition to having opportunities to speak with alumni from her high school about the paths they were pursuing, she found it was comforting to speak to adults who were honest and straightforward about life after high school.
Read other student stories of exploring life beyond high school:
Sean is a Black college student who went to high school in Bronzeville. He immediately enrolled in a public university in Illinois and is now transferring to a community college in Chicago to develop his trade skills.
Mitzi is a Mexican-American, first-generation college student who grew up in Gage Park. She immediately enrolled in a private university in Chicago, took time off, and transferred to a community college to complete an associate degree. Currently, she is seeking to transfer to a private college in Chicago.
Drea is currently an active member of the workforce, Drea graduated from a CPS Options school in 2020. Proud of her accomplishments, she shares the reasons behind her positive high school experience and explains each factor of her decision-making process.
Syed immigrated to the United States with his family from India. Syed settled in Rogers Park and graduated high school in 2020. Now a sophomore at a two-year college in Chicago, he reflects on his experience taking a gap year during the pandemic and thinks about his plans for the future.
Kenia is a Mexican-American graduate who grew up in Gage park. Having found support in the YearUp community, Kenia has been able to both progress in the corporate world and spend quality time with her son, whom she had in her senior year of high school. Looking back on the four years before graduating in 2019, Kenia describes some of the support she wished she had.
Elijah is a Black college student from the Far Southeast Side of Chicago. He took time off from college after graduating high school and then enrolled in a public university in Illinois. After completing several semesters, he again took time off from college before returning to the same university.
Kristian is a Black college student from Woodlawn who immediately enrolled in a private university in Ohio. She took a semester off and transferred to an HBCU in Washington D.C., before transferring to a private college in Washington.
Sergio is a Mexican, first-generation college student and DACA recipient from the West Lawn neighborhood. He immediately enrolled in a private university in Chicago, took time off from college, and then transferred to a public university in Chicago.
The To&Through Project team would like to express our most sincere gratitude to Jarfaire for sharing her story with us.
Ashley Fung, a fourth-year student at the University of Chicago majoring in Public Policy. Inspired by the interviews she conducted and grateful for the opportunity to write about them, Ashley is currently working on her B.A. Thesis focused on education policy in the context of Chicago Public Schools.