Monday, January 10, 2011

Crying in Community College

I cried like a little girl when I first came to community college.

There I was in the crowded advising waiting room, crouched in a corner, hoping that since I’d already been waiting there an hour they’d call my name soon. But they didn’t. I looked around at the fellow students sitting in chairs. They looked harried. Bored. Alone.

My first memory of community college was far from the glorified picture I had imagined. I originally had planned on going to a small private school on the beach that specialized in a particular major. I pictured driving down to the small campus, having my dad unload my stuff, my mom help me pick out my books, and then saying good-bye while I was off to a fun and goofy orientation where I would meet my lifelong friends.

Instead I was crying alone in a crowded room of people who looked forgotten. I was going to college where “anyone” could get in.  But what I didn’t know then that I know now, is that community college is not about “anyone” being able to get in. It’s about “everyone” being able to get in.

If it weren’t for community college I would have either had to defer my college education for a semester, or have had to put my parents in $100,000 worth of debt.

Three weeks before I was supposed to move to my dorm, I received my freshman schedule and the bill for the year - $25,000.

 I grew up in a lower middle class family and we didn’t have a lot of money to begin with. And during my high school years both of my brothers ended up in the hospital. One woke up paralyzed one morning, and weeks later the other had a seizure in the middle of the night. I’m happy to report both brothers are now in perfect health, but the hospital bills, physical therapy, and pills wiped us out.

As a first generation college student, my parents didn’t know a lot about the higher educational world. But they loved me a lot, encouraged my academic pursuits, and in their infinite love for me said they would take out loans for me to go to college wherever I wanted. I guess they were already in debt for such horrible things that going into more debt for something positive didn’t seem like a bad idea. My dad was the kind of guy who sold his car to buy me one, and my mom the kind who lived in a trailer when we were little so she could stay home with us.  

So when I opened my first college bill, my stomach dropped at the magnitude of two five’s and three zero’s staring me in the face. Was I really willing to put my parents in a total of $100,000 in debt so I could go to a private school? I knew the answer before I asked the question.


So three weeks before I was supposed to move away I drove to the local community college and waited in the crowded advising room to choose my schedule.

Little did I know I had chosen so much more.

Though initially I had felt like a failure ending up in a college where “anyone” can get it, I soon realized the privilege it was to get to go to a college where everyone could get in. I met single moms looking to make a better life for their kids. I met people from other countries looking to get an education that they so desperately appreciated. I met former fast-food workers ready to take hold of their piece of the American dream.  I met first generation college students making strides in their family history.

And I met local 18-year-old students who didn’t always have the encouragement or motivation they needed in high school, but who were ready to change and take ownership of their education and their lives.  

This blog is dedicated to all of those incredible students I met in my two years at community college. It is also dedicated to the inspiring students I talk to every day in my job as a Student Life coordinator.

This blog is for any community college student who ever felt like crying during their college experience. It’s for any community college student who wants to get good grades, graduate, and make a difference in the world with their talents. This blog is for anyone who is willing to go the extra mile, listen to the advice of the experienced, and make the most of every opportunity.

This blog will feature the most vital strategies and tips that helped me succeed in community college. It will also feature a lot of advice I wish someone had given me while in college. I will share stories, musings, and interviews with some of the most successful community college graduates I know.

Every blog will come with a challenge or a call to action that is guaranteed to help you reach your goals and break the barriers that sometimes hold you back from the potential you know you have.  How can I make such a guarantee? Because I will never give you a challenge that didn’t work for me.

So with the beginnings of this first blog and the beginnings of your Spring 2011 semester, I challenge you to walk through the doors of your first class and really notice the people around you. Resist the temptation to focus on your phone in those sometimes awkwardly quiet moments before the professor walks in. And start a conversation with someone. Ask them if they’ve heard anything about this class. Compliment them. Engage.

And today’s challenge comes with a bonus challenge for only the truly dedicated. Sit in the front.

Every good thing that happened to me in college happened because of an incredible peer or professor.  Take the time to get to know them. Amazing things will come from those connections.

How do I know? Because I also ended my community college experience crouched on the floor crying. But that time it was because the President surprised me with the announcement that I had won the $110,000 Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. Around me friends I had made while at community college cried for me. Professors who wrote the scholarship recommendation letters hugged me. In that moment the “community” of community college was all around me, and I knew I had made the best choice of my life.

Make your choice to go to community college a great one. And I’ll be here to help in any way that I can.

Signing off on today’s Monday Morning Motivation,



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