Dylan Girouard took his first steps onto Grossman Commons at Cape Cod Community College after dropping out of high school in his junior year.
Girouard, 25, was set to graduatefrom Mashpee High School as a part of the Class of 2015, but mental health struggles stood in the way.
He got his GED from 4Cs in 2014, and enrolled again the following year to pursue an associate degree. Mental health struggles would halt his education again, however, and in the spring of 2017, he dropped out.
The second time at college was the charm for Girouard — he re-enrolled in 2021, and graduated Wednesday with an associate’s degree in English, closing out his eight-year journey at 4Cs.
Looking back, Girouard credits his successful second try at college to a combination of growing up and the support and inspiration from his girlfriend of five years, Mikayla Newbrey, a fellow Class of 2022 4Cs graduate.
“I’m happy I took this path, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t,” he said of returning to college in 2021. “I didn’t take school seriously back then. I couldn’t have done what I’m doing now if I tried back then.”
Although they were classmates at Mashpee High School, Newbrey and Girouard didn’t meet until she returned to the Cape from Portland, Oregon, where she moved after graduating high school in 2013.
“We were at the same school, we even rode the same bus, but we never knew each other,” Girouard said.
“We were even in band together,” Newbrey said, “but we never met.”
Newbrey, whose father grew up on the West Coast, said she was drawn to move there after high school to see the larger-than-life trees for which the Pacific Northwest is known.
She enrolled in a community college in Portland, and pursued an art degree, taking classes in ceramics and metal fabrication.
A few years later, however, Newbrey felt that it was time to return to the Cape.
“I really missed my family,” she said. “I felt like I needed to move on to the next chapter of my life.”
Former classmates reconnect
She met Girouard soon after she moved back to Cape Cod while working at an art gallery next to a market where he worked.
She took a cross-country road trip with her mom after she returned from Portland, where they made sure to visit several national parks along the way.
Newbrey remembers being at Joshua Tree National Park when she first thought of a calling.
“I’ve always loved national parks and conservation,” she said. “I just remember thinking, this is what I want to dedicate my life to.”
Newbrey went back to school in 2019 to study environmental enforcement at 4Cs with the idea of becoming a park ranger.
Soon after classes started, however, she found that she had fallen in love with biology, and has been studying it ever since. Newbrey is a guest student researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute doing genetic analysis on the invasive green crab species.
The inspiration to go back to school
Her going back to school was a major factor in Girouard’s decision to go back, too. A college education seemed more attainable, he said.
“If we’re both working towards it together, then it’s easier,” Girouard said.
Newbrey remembered conversations she had with him about college, and was able to empathize with him dropping out in 2017, as she had dropped out of the community college she attended to Portland.
“I understand that position, I know what it’s like when it’s just too much,” she said.
Girouard reached out to Professor Rebecca Griffin in the English department when he re-enrolled, remembering a few classes he took with her that he enjoyed. She agreed to be his adviser.
Returning to school in 2021 presented its own challenges. His return to academia would be completely online due to pandemic restrictions.
Girouard said that this was actually helped in readjusting to school, and relieved the anxiety that can come from being in-person in a classroom.
Finding his niche
He recalled the many courses and professors who made an impact on him, including Professor Thomas Schaefer’s poetry-writing course.
“There were only six students in the class, so it definitely felt like an MFA-style workshop,” Girouard said. “Everyone came in with poetry and, we all critiqued each other’s work. It really felt like a graduate-level class.”
Perhaps the biggest impact on Girouard, however, was his relationship with his adviser, Griffin.
This past semester he took an independent study course with her about rhetoric and composition, described as the field of writing and research, especially at the college level.
In Girouard’s words, rhetoric and composition is the “nitty gritty of teaching English.”
“I knew I wanted to study English, but I’m just not geared towards literature,” he said. “That’s what English is in middle and high school, you know, you read a book and then you talk about it.”
Griffin, who worked with rhetoric and composition graduate students at UMass Amherst before teaching at 4Cs, told Girouard he was a “textbook rhet-comp student.”
It was here that he found his place in the subject he is passionate about.
“I just had no idea there could be this other side to English,” he said.
Plans for the future
He returned to school with the goal of being an English teacher, but Girouard discovered a passion for higher-education academia, and hopes to one day be a professor at a community college.
“I want to teach students like myself,” he said. “Going in and out of community college, I know what it’s like. I will always put on my resume that I got my associate’s degree from a community college, I’m very proud of it.”
“I’m so thankful for 4Cs. My professors and everyone there helped so much along the way. You get a hands-on experience you usually wouldn’t at a bigger college,” she said. “It’s really an incredible community.”
Both Girouard and Newbrey are headed to UMass Amherst in the fall, where they will continue their education in English and biology. They hope to graduate with their bachelor’s degrees in 2024.
“I have a lot of pride in having gone to 4Cs,” Girouard said. “It’s given me the opportunities I have today.”