Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The #1 thing you should do to increase your motivation

For the last two days I have felt uncharacteristically unmotivated. I ignored my to-do list, spent way too much time on social media, and pretty much did anything but work. And I couldn't figure out why.

And then, this morning, I realized I had lost my goal sheet that I read every morning. It's a typed list of all the goals I have for this year and for the future. It's something I write every new year

It got lost during my recent travels, and I hadn't been reading it every morning. It affected me more than I could have ever realized. Until this morning, I hadn't realized what a significant difference reading my goals every morning makes on my life.

Life is complicated and no matter how naturally motivated or over-achieving you are, it's easy to get side-tracked and forget why working hard is important or why it matters to you

Success in anything requires incredibly hard work every single day. And daily hard work requires intense motivation. And the only way to get motivated is to remind yourself what you're working towards - every single day.

Have you written your goals down yet? Take a few minutes right now and write or type up your goals for this year. Make them positive, specific, and timely (e.g. I will graduate with my A.A. with honors by May 2013).

And make sure they are things you really really really want; your goals should be your heart's desires, because those are the things that will motivate you to do the things you don't want to do.

Print your goals out and put them somewhere where you'll read them every morning. Remind yourself every day what you want out of your life and what you want to accomplish. It will motivate you more than you could ever imagine. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How to make friends in college

A lot of students ask me how to make friends in college. While I share a lot of advice on this blog, my YouTube channel, and my book, in the end it all comes down to stepping outside your comfort zone. And recently, I was reminded just how hard that is: 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

5 questions you should ask yourself mid-semester

The semester is a little over half-way over, and below are five questions you should ask yourself. Take a few seconds and jot down your answers - you'll be surprised by the great advice you can give yourself when you just take the time to listen. You have more wisdom than you realize. 

1. Am I giving my college education my 110%? If the answer is no, why not? 

2. What is one thing I know I need to do to improve my grades, but I keep avoiding?

3. What is one thing I did this semester that I'm really proud of and why? 

4. What can I do more of in order to replicate those kinds of proud-moment experiences?

5. What advice would I give someone who was going through what I'm going through at this point of college? 

Keep up the great work this semester, and keep on pushing. The end will be here before you know it, and there is no greater feeling in college than walking to the parking lot on the last day of the semester after your last exam, knowing you've given your 110%.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Are you undroppable?

“I pushed myself. My name is Cynthia Gallardo and I am undroppable.”

Cynthia is a high school student who has overcome great odds – a father arrested, a teen pregnancy – to graduate high school. Today she is at community college, and she is one of the students who has inspired Jason Pollock to create the social media campaign and upcoming documentary Undroppable, of which Cynthia’s video is a part.

I recently spoke with Jason about his involvement with this project and what he’s learned after interviewing hundreds of high school students, in some of the most impoverished areas in the country.

Jason got his start in filmmaking as an assistant to Michael Moore, working on famous films such as Farenheit 9/11, and has always had a passion for showing young people what they can accomplish, as he did with his first documentary The Youngest Candidate.

Undroppable is all about bringing the students into the conversation. As Pollock said: “This is about the people who are part of the educational system, and showing what their lives are really like.”

Below is my interview with Jason, as what he said was just so great I knew I couldn’t say it any better myself, and I wanted you to get the chance to meet him:

What did you learn from interviewing so many high school kids who are struggling?

“I’ve interviewed hundreds of kids in America in the most impoverished areas; all of the testimonials online are just a fraction. I’ve sat with students for weeks at a time and really just cried with them. Kids that grow up with poverty have so many more obstacles than people realize.

“What I’ve learned the most is that there’s always different issues in education, but the big issue is poverty, and it affects kids in all these different ways. Poverty and the fact that their lives are so hard because of poverty and all that goes with it.

“When you live in poverty there is also all this aggression and you have to let it out, so obviously we see it come out in horrible ways like gangs, and drugs. So many of my kids have seen murder. They look me in the face with a straight face and say “ya I saw someone get killed.” It’s their reality. They’re just going to say it. There’s all these issues that make it so that they are having to survive. If you are having to worry about survival, then school is going to fall behind.”

When Jason said “my kids” I smiled in recognition, because it’s something I started saying a few months into my job when I was a Student Life Coordinator. I could tell and feel in Jason’s voice that these kids are so much more than a documentary to him. They have affected and inspired him, and it’s obviously that, like me, he sees these kinds of kids, who continue to strive for better and succeed in education, as heroes.

I noticed a lot of the students you interviewed in the beginning are now in community college. How do you think community colleges fit into breaking this cycle of poverty?

“Community colleges are integral in this process to fixing the dropout rate. Community college is where every kid goes who can’t afford to go to a university. Every kid in poverty goes to community college unless they get a big scholarship, and that’s rare. But if you do well in community college after two years you can transfer to basically any college in the country! Community college is a big part of closing the opportunity gap and helping any student be able to get anywhere.

“And in some ways, these kids that come from poverty and lift themselves up against all odds are so much more ready for college, because they have had to take it so seriously to get through. The kid who just rolls out of bed and doesn’t take high school seriously because he has it easy, can kind of just roll into college and continue to not take it seriously.”

What do you see in the students who are undroppable, who are continuing high school and going on to college despite the odds?

“The students that get through this horrible maze of poverty and reality, there’s one defining trait that they have – resiliency. So the question is, how do we build that trait? No matter what, when they’re bent, they don’t break. A lot of kids, and the reason we have so many dropouts, is that life bends a lot of people, and they break, and it’s incredibly understandable. It’s unreasonable how far life has bent some people. But there are these few people who don’t break no matter what.”

In my experience and in my book I talk about having support from a community being one of the most defining factors in success; have you seen that in any of these students?

“Yes! Most of the undroppable kids that I met had at least one person at home who is amazing, and it was never a surprise to me to talk to the student and then meet the amazing parent.

“Though of course sometimes it blows your mind when you meet an orphan who is getting through it. Students who are making it have amazing people around them, and they have a community of the school around them that cares. It takes a village.”

Shawndtrana’s video beautifully explains how her community helped her not break.

What advice do you have for students who are struggling to finish their education and are feeling like they are about to break?

“You’re just as smart as everyone else. I’ve met kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and kids that come from poor backgrounds are just as smart as everyone else, and if they work hard in school they can do anything anyone else does.

“Education really is the gateway to do whatever you want to do. And if you do well in community college and get good grades, and then put your background experience into an essay, every college is going to want to have you.”

The full-length documentary will premiere Fall 2013, but this week Jason will launch a tour to show pieces of the film to high schools across the country in order to begin the conversation and show struggling students two simple things – that they are not alone and that they can be undroppable.

To me, undroppable means realizing that no matter what you’ve been through, only you get to decide whether you’re a statistic or a success. Wherever you are in your educational journey, I encourage you to check out the Undroppable YouTube videos as a reminder, as they were to me, of what it means to rise above, to try, and to keep going no matter what.
A montage of Jason in action, filming the documentary. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The power of coffee in college

Okay, so, while I loved the free coffee in the cafeteria before my 2 PM class, this isn't what this post is about. 

It's about the times I spent (and still spend) in a café with a friend. I just finished sipping coffee out of a beautiful teacup with a former SGA president I advised when I worked at a community college. She has an amazing story - she got all D's in high school and just didn't care about what she was going to do in her future.

And then, when she got to community college, everything changed. She found her motivation and a community of people to support her. She graduated community college with a 3.9 GPA and is now working in the national Public Allies program for a semester and will transfer to a four-year university this Spring.

I'll share more of her story with you in the Spring when the Public Allies application opens again, but I wanted to give you an idea of who she is so you can see how she inspired me.

I started this blog while I was working in a community college. It was the students I met like her, the students I now get to meet when I speak, students like you, who inspire me more than anything else in the world. 

The thing is, it took effort for us to get together, because we both have busy schedules. But everyone can find 15 minutes for coffee. And the best part is,  once you start, that 15 minutes often turns into an hour or two, and you don't even notice. 

Because face-to-face conversation is like a triple-shot espresso.

Invite someone out for a quick coffee (or tea, or lunch, or whatever you love) and just talk. I had those kinds of café conversations daily in college and I loved them. Today, I have to work a lot harder to make them happen, but I always feel a million-times better afterwards. 

So choose your favorite place, grab a friend, and enjoy the "caffeine" rush of time spent with a good friend :) 

Monday, October 22, 2012

What is your love language?

I was watching the reality show Tia & Tamera a few days ago (love the 90's), and in this episode, the twins went to therapy to work on their communication skills. 

They learned about love languages for the first time. I read about love languages when I was in 9th grade and I remember even then it was pretty revelatory. So just in case you hadn't heard of them yet, I wanted to make sure I shared them with you. 

In short, the 5 love languages are quality time, words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, and receiving gifts. The theory is that we give and receive love in different ways, and that we often give love in the way that means the most to us. However - that doesn't mean it is the way the other person feels loved the most.

I love this theory because it hinges on the idea that we put others before ourselves and consider how we make other people feel. Understanding love languages can help you in your dating relationships, friendships, and family relationships - but the theory also applies to building any relationship in your life, even professional. 

The best way to maintain solid relationships is to try to learn everything you can about the other person and then do things that make him or her feel valued. And of course, you won't want to go up to people and ask them what their love language is - all you have to do is notice what they do to show people they care about them. If you observe carefully enough, you'll figure it out. 

While it's vital to learn about others, you will also gain a lot by learning about yourself. The more you learn about yourself in college, the better you'll understand how you can bring your best self to the world and to your future career. You can learn your love language right now by taking this free assessment. If you're in college you'll want to choose the one for "singles.

My primary love language is words of affirmation. So that's why I write to you. You mean more to me than you know <3

Thursday, October 18, 2012

An American Dream story: my interview with Under Secretary María Otero

Last week I interviewed the Under Secretary of State as part of Hispanic Heritage Month and I wanted to share her American Dream story with you. María spoke of her work with such passion and, as a Latina woman myself, I found it so empowering to hear her story. I hope you find it inspiring too:

"When Under Secretary of State María Otero left La Paz, Bolivia with her family to live in Washington D.C., she could have never imagined she’d be working down the hall from Secretary Clinton one day.

"Otero remembers her childhood in Bolivia with joy. Despite it being, according to Otero, 'a poor, underdeveloped country with enormous political instability,' it was her home.

"But it was also a home where women were not expected to study past high school. 'Instead,' Otero said, 'they were to begin looking for a husband and then have children....'" Read More here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How to take your college career from good to great

I just finished reading a book I've always heard about but had never read -  Good to Great by Jim Collins.

The book is based off a case study of businesses, but the concepts in the book relate a lot to your potential in college for greatness. 

Why would you want to be great? Because, as Collins says, the momentum you build when you pursue greatness "adds more energy back into the pool than it takes out. Conversely, perpetuating mediocrity is an inherently depressing process and drains much more energy out of the pool than it puts back in" (p. 208).

Does your college career ever feel like that? A depressing and draining process? The best way to counteract that cycle is to pursue greatness  in a direction that you actually care about.

Because that's the secret - greatness can only come when you care about something. When Collins asked top CEO's why they made their organization great, they couldn't answer. Because they just cared about it so much that they couldn't not go for greatness. 

Collins' advice: "Get involved in something that you care so much about that you want to make it the greatest it can possibly be, not because of what you will get, but just because it can be done" (p.209). 

Do you care about your college career? Are you pursuing a major or a career direction that moves you to give your 100% every day in class? That is what it takes. As Thomas Friedman said, "the age of average is over," and success in anything requires the kind of work ethic needed to pursue greatness. 

There are so many parallels in Collins' book that you can apply to pursuing greatness in any area of your life, but for college, the one I just had to leave you with is the three circles. Collins' circles have slightly different phrasing because they are related to businesses; below I've drawn three circles for you that represent the concepts I speak to college students about all the time when it comes to finding your major and direction in college

To pursue greatness in your college career and future career, you'll want to start being purposeful in filling in your three circles with information about you so that you can get to a major and/or career plan that will motivate you to succeed. 

Get involved in clubs, try out internships, and seek out professional mentors to help you figure out what you care about, what you are really good at, and how that fits into our current economy. (If you're feeling really above-average, why not draw those circles on a piece of paper right now and start filling them in with your ideas so far?) 

The best way to pursue greatness in your life is to start learning about yourself. Once you figure out where your three circles intersect, there will be no stopping you :)

Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: why some companies make the leap--and others don't. New York, NY: HarperBusiness.

Monday, October 15, 2012

5 steps to make the most out of LinkedIn in college

On every Monday night that I can, I join the #InternPro chat with YouTern on Twitter, and last week's topic was: "Not on LinkedIn? Are You F'ing Crazy?" lol. YouTern always makes me laugh. 

The conversation was wonderful, and it helped me realize that a lot of students are intimidated, confused, and unsure about using LinkedIn when they're young. So I wanted to ease your fears and give you five steps to start using LinkedIn in ways that can help you right now!

Note: If this is the first time you're hearing about LinkedIn, it's essentially a Facebook for professionals. It's more about developing job opportunities, less about sharing funny cat meme's (thought feel free to share them with me because I love them).  

  1. Build your profile. Have a friend take a nice headshot of you in professional clothing for this profile picture. For your title, list "'student' or, if you know your major, '_____ major' at [insert your college here]. For the rest, visit your college career center and ask them to help you  build a resume, and then use that to build your LinkedIn profile. 
  2. Find a mentor in your desired industry and ask him/her to look over your LinkedIn profile and give you advice on how you can tailor your current experiences to be attractive to company's where you'd like to intern. 
  3. Use LinkedIn's advanced people search and play around with entering things in the keyword, title, company, and industry boxes that relate to what you are interested in. Do not limit yourself by location initially, and just read the profiles of people who have jobs you might like so you can learn where they got their start, what they majored in, and how their career has progressed. It will teach you a lot about the paths you can take. 
  4. Use the advanced people search again and this time look for people in jobs you'd like who live near you. Learn as much as you can about them in a general online search, and then send them a personal request to connect as a friend, telling them briefly why you admire them and that you want to learn from them. You can then follow the steps in the post I wrote about how to find a professional mentor
  5. Join LinkedIn groups related with your desired industry and get involved in the discussions. Joining these groups sometimes gives you access to message some group members directly (great way to find mentors). Groups will also help you stay up to date on industry news (very impressive for a college student), and learn about job opportunities. The best way to find groups to join is look at the profiles of people who are in jobs you're interested in and scroll down their profile to see which groups they are a part of - then join them!
I'd be happy to be your first LinkedIn connection! Once you've built your profile you can request to connect with me here; just tell me you're a blog reader and I'll accept. 

Happy LinkedIn'ing ;)

Two amazing $100K college scholarships you can apply for

Applications are currently open for two of the most lucrative college scholarships out there - and I wanted to be sure you knew about them. If you meet the eligibility requirements you should definitely apply! 
1 - For High School Seniors: The Ronald McDonald House Charities offers multiple $100,000 scholarships for high school seniors who intend to attend a two-year, four-year, or technical school. 

I recently spoke with one of the winners from last year, Carina. She said of winning the scholarship:

"The scholarship was kind of like my miracle. It allowed me not only to go to Baylor, but really allowed me to achieve my goals. Winning this scholarship helped me be able to do what I hoped to do and achieve my goals in a way I couldn't have done if finances were still a hindrance." 

Apply to one of the Ronald McDonald House Charity scholarships here.

2 - For Community College Students: If you are intending to transfer to a four-year university after community college than you should definitely consider applying for the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. It is the scholarship that proves community college students have the abilities to get to the top universities in the country, they just don't always have the money. 

I'll never forget the moment my college president announced I had won the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. I literally got weak in the knees and wept on the community college carpet. Scholarships like these change your life forever - if you qualify, apply. The application experience itself will teach you a lot about yourself. 

Learn how to apply for the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship here.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

How to share your story (and how you can share it in the One Professor campaign!)

I think knowing how to tell a compelling story is one of the most underrated skills.

People pay attention to stories (e.g. it's why movies are so popular). In such a fast paced society, we are really good at ignoring everything else.

Whether you realize it or not, you have compelling stories to share, and I want to specifically invite you to share a story of how a professor has changed your life, as part of Pearson's One Professor Campaign that is launching today.

This campaign was inspired by you. As I got to know many amazing community college students through the blog this year, I kept hearing the same phrase when they shared their success story: "There was this one professor..."

I consult with Pearson and am so excited about this campaign that I helped co-create. The real creation, however, starts with you - and I can't wait to see what you come up with.

You can learn how to submit a video of your story (and see my One Professor story) at

Below are strategies to help you shine when sharing your One Professor story.

  • Think first. Before you shoot your video, talk with someone about your professor or jot down a few notes about what you want to say. Consider these questions:
    • Why this professor?
    • What did this professor mean to you?
    • Did this professor do anything in class that is unique (e.g. one student shared how his professor drew the name of one of the 120 students after each class to have coffee with him).
    • Did this professor say anything to you that changed the way you think?
    • Did this professor support you in a way you didn't expect from higher education?
    • Why is this professor important to you?
    • How did what this professor did for you affect your life today?
    • Where would you be without this professor?
  •  Keep it short. Your One Professor video should be about 60 seconds. People have short attention spans, and often it's the shorter videos that have the strongest impact. Stick to the most important points.
  • Have a beginning, middle, & end.
    • Beginning: If it helps, you can start by saying "My One Professor is Professor [insert name here] and...." Then share what this professor said or did that meant something to you.
    •  Middle: Share why what this professor said or did affected you so personally.
    • End: Speak to how this professor changed your life, and end by saying "Thank you Professor [insert name here.]Get personal. In addition to telling us about your professor, don't forget to also tell us a little bit about you. Use the word "I" and give us some hints into who you are in relation to how this professor changed you. Don't be afraid to share a personal struggle if it's something your professor helped you with. People will relate to and respect your bravery in sharing your authentic self.
  • Don't judge yourself. We are our own worst critics when it comes to our own stories and videos. Silence the voice that will tell you your story isn't good enough. You are more than enough and I guarantee you that your story, even if it's very simple, will mean more to others than you realize. When you get nervous, just think about what your professor meant to you and how this is just a way to say thank you.
  •  Consider your audience. While we think your video will encourage other students to build relationships with their professors, and serve as a reminder that learning is personal, the audience you should be thinking about when shooting your video is your professor. Make it your goal to make your professor see how much his or her work makes a difference in people's lives, by sharing honestly how he or she has made a difference in yours.
  •  Camera tips: Look in the camera and smile. Film it once or twice as a practice before you shoot the final one. It's usually easier to be more natural, brief, and comfortable in the 2nd or 3rd take.
  • Creativity: Creativity is always encouraged; if you have a creative way to share your One Professor story in video form then go for it! However, this doesn't need to be complicated. Your story and a camera is all you need.
  • What to wear: Solid colors work best. Avoid patterns and logos.
  • Be yourself. Don't let these tips intimidate you. These strategies are meant to ensure we get to know the real you in your video. Most of us tend to freeze up when a camera is on, and struggle to show people our authentic selves. Your ability to honestly share your story as a part of this campaign will affect students and professors more than you know.
All you really have to do is click record on your camera and tell us how your life has changed because of One Professor. If you are your authentic self and share your true gratitude, nothing else will matter. Because just the act of being a part of this campaign will show your professors how much they mean to you. 

Click here to upload your video and join the One Professor Campaign. I cannot wait to hear your story!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Share your CC dream and you could win $1500 scholarship

Do you know what your dream job is yet? Is community college helping you get there? 

If the answer is yes then I want to encourage you to submit your story as part of Achieving the Dream's Dream Big for College Video Contest!

First place will win $1500, second place $1000, and third place $500. Every bit helps, right? And the winner could be you!

Below are some tips for doing these kinds of video contests that I hope can help you win :)
  • Be sure you have good lighting whenever possible
  • Dress nicely and smile at the camera
  • Be genuine and ask you talk think about how much your CC experience has meant to you
  • Be personal and share stories; don't be afraid to share your greatest challenges as they will inspire people the most
  • If you need to read a teleprompter, you can use my personal fav,
  • If you don't have something to create a video with, ask someone at the college to help you get in touch with their media department - if they hear you're submitting to this contest I'm sure they'll help by filming for you. 
  • Focus on the question, which in this case is telling how your community college is helping you move closer to your dream job. Tell your personal story, but always keep this topic in mind. 
Good luck and I hope you submit your story!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The SKiNNY premiere on college engagement!

Yesterday I made my hosting debut on the first episode of TCC22's new college success show The SKiNNY. It premiered on their cable station, but it's also available to you on YouTube.

This first episode is all about getting involved in college. If you have any ideas for future episode segments feel free to send them my way at and I'll be sure to get your idea to the producers. 

I hope you enjoy the show, and thank you so much for all your support!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Top college president credits community college for his success

I recently got the opportunity to interview Dr. Eduardo Padrón for Hispanic Heritage Month. He is the president of the largest community college in the country, and I hope his story of college success will inspire you as much as it has personally inspired me. 

"When Eduardo Padrón left Cuba for America at the age of 15, with his younger brother in tow, he could have never imagined that one day he would be named one of the top 10 college presidents by TIME magazine as president of Miami-Dade College...Read More.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Questions answered from New York State Completion Day

I recently spoke for New York State's Completion Day and afterwards students were able to text in questions since many were watching the simulcast across the state. I wasn't able to get to all of them so I told them I'd still answer their questions on my blog. Thanks so much for asking questions you guys - it says a lot about you! Successful students ask questions :)

What was your most trying time in community college? Michael from Broome CC 

The hardest time I had in community college was at the beginning. I felt so alone when I started, just going to class and going home, not sure what this whole "college" thing was all about. What changed that for me was the friends I met in the classroom. That is why the first section of my book was about connecting with your peers. Professors helped me academically and professional mentors helped me get jobs, but my friends were the ones who got me through the hard times. 

What can I do to prepare myself for my Bachelors? - Arriana from Erie CC

Join the honors program if your college has one, join Phi Theta Kappa, and find a professor whom you really connect with to be your mentor. Honors programs are great at preparing you to transfer and Phi Theta Kappa is a way to qualify for many transfer scholarships. And professors know academia better than anyone else and can help guide you towards the best colleges to apply to and how to go about that process. Seek help every day, because it can be a lot. But you can do it!!

What advice would you give a student without hope? - Anonymous

This is such a great question. I think hope is the most important factor for college success. But it's hard to measure, and it's hard to "teach." I lost all hope when I first started community college. I felt so alone. But it was the people I met in community college who gave me hope - the friends in the classroom, going to my professors' office hours, meeting with my academic advisor often, and joining clubs. Take action even when you feel hopeless by asking others for help. Eventually, you'll find hope will come back to you again when those people start to see in you what you can't see in yourself - potential.

What is a good way to get motivated to go to morning classes? Daniel from SUNY Orange

First of all, think about when you are most energized. If it's not the morning, try to pick classes at times where you are most alert. However, if you have to take morning classes, then choose classes that you're most excited about to start the day with. I also recommend getting up earlier to give yourself some time to actually wake up and eat breakfast so that you're ready for the day by the time you get to class. I also recommend dressing nice, and listening to your favorite music on the way. Also, try reading your goals and  reading a few pages of a good motivational/college success book each morning. Starting your day with your goals fresh in your head will help motivate you to remember how  your classes will help you get to where you want to go in your life. 

When you're feeling overwhelmed, how do you overcome the most difficult obstacles surrounding you with all the work you do? Danny from SUNY Orange Newburgh Campus

The hardest year of my life was when I was working full time, writing my book, and getting my Masters. I'd wake up at 5am to write my book, go to work by 8:30am, and then I'd get home at 5:30pm and I'd work on my Masters. It was exhausting and there were so many times where I just felt like I couldn't do this. I'd cry alone and wonder to myself, why am I trying so hard? Is this really worth it? Is any of this going to actually work out? Is this really going to help me reach my dreams? 

And there were many times I thought no, maybe this isn't worth it, maybe I'm trying too hard, maybe no one will read my book, maybe this won't make a difference, maybe I'm not capable of this. 

But what kept me going was hope. I'd crash and burn but then I'd journal about it and read my goals again (which I write down every year) and remember students like you. I'd remember the people who believe in me. And I'd remember that dreams require hard work, and that even though I wasn't seeing results now and probably wouldn't see them for years, that this is what it would take. And in the past few months, I have finally been seeing the results. It was a long journey, but every tear and every early morning was worth it.

You'll feel that same way once you receive your diploma. I promise. 

At the book signing after the New York State Completion Day event

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Why to complete college

Right now I am sitting in the cafeteria of Finger Lakes Community College, waiting to speak for New York State's College Completion Day. As I think about completion, I look around me, and I realize I’m surrounded by students who are here for a reason. They may not know what that reason is yet, but for some reason, they’re here. They started.

As I sit here today, about to speak about completion and have it broadcasted to all 37 New York community colleges, I can’t help but think about where I started.

When I sat in my community college cafeteria I could have never really believed I’d be an author and a speaker, traveling the country and helping students succeed. It’s a Wednesday and I’m in New York State. Doing what I love. Is this real?

That was always my reason for completing college - to have a chance to do a job I loved.

My dad, who wasn't able to figure out what he wanted to do with his life when he went to community college, always instilled within me and my brothers to do what we love – to figure out who we were, what we were good at, and then find a way to paid for it. I chased that. And I always believed college would give me the freedom to explore and choose and fail, and then get back up again and try something new.

Last week my dad’s mom died. And on that same day, I received my M.Ed diploma in the mail. 

And in that moment I realized a diploma is so much more than a piece of paper. For me, it represents my life. It represents my hard work, my tears, my failures, my strengths, and my choices. There is nothing you can really say to explain to someone the feeling of finishing something you’re proud of. The only way to feel that elation is to experience it.

And that is what I want for you. That elation of not just “getting through” college, but of completing it. The feeling of reaching a goal you really care about. The feeling of having more choices and a chance of a better life than anyone in your family has had before. 

Sometimes I know it's hard to hope for that feelings when things are so hard now, when you're just trying to survive. But I have learned that any goal worth achieving involves long periods of time where you feel like your hard work will never pay off.  

But it will. 

And when you get that diploma you will feel it. You will realize that in the end it isn't the piece of paper that matters, and in some ways it isn't even the credential or the resume boost that really matters, that really gives you that feeling.

You may find, like I did, that the paper will bring to your mind what you did to get where you are today. It will make you feel so thankful to all the people who helped you achieve more than you ever thought possible. And more than anything else, you will enjoy the feeling that you have the power to create your life, despite any obstacles that come your way.

The things that cause community college students to drop out are also the things that make completers that much stronger. 

You may have barriers you've faced  because the color of your skin or the neighborhood where you grew up or how much money your parents had (or didn't have). But you are so much more than that, and when you complete your degree, you show the world that you can do anything. You prove that the American Dream still exists, because it is only as strong as the will of the people who pursue it. 

But most importantly, you show yourself that you can do anything. And once you figure that out, nothing will limit what you can accomplish.

The New York State completion day event I was a part of can be viewed on FLCC Connects (my speech starts at around 38 minutes). And I highly recommend checking out this great short video they created, featuring amazing CC alumni talking about why it's so important to complete college. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Vlog: College Tips for Your Freshman Year

Below is a video with four tips to start your freshman year on the right foot. If you're not a freshman, you might still want to check out the tips to ensure you did them when you were a freshman. If you haven't - you still can :)