Monday, September 9, 2013

Calling all community college students: America needs you

I just came back from speaking to a community college in New York City and was excited to have an extra day to walk around Manhattan.

My grandparents moved from Puerto Rico to New York City to find jobs. They didn't speak English, had 4th-grade educations, and lived in the projects in the Bronx. But they found jobs that allowed them to eventually buy a home, raise a family, and make it possible for me to go to college. 

New York City represents so much of the American Dream profoundly realized.

And yet New York City, like many cities, illustrates the income gap that is growing around the country. The closeness of city life makes the juxtaposition of extreme success and extreme poverty so visible.

In the city you can see the literal heights of success - tall buildings, bustling business, million-dollar apartments, high-end fashion. But coexisting on the same streets is the most dire poverty - a homeless veteran, a pregnant woman stranded and trying to get bus fare home. There are so many looking up for help, and yet so many walking by. 

What can be tough about aspiration is that sometimes we're so focused on looking up and moving forward that we can forget the inequality around us.

Success is often viewed as a perpetual climb, and the ethos teaches us to keep wanting more, more, more. 

But the old adage when climbing great heights - "don't look down" - isn't one we should follow when pursuing success. 

We must look down, behind, back, and around. Moving forward alone isn't really moving forward. 

It can be harder for people who become accustomed to extreme wealth to see the inequality. For those who know poverty, who have looked into the eyes of it, maybe even in the mirror, it can be harder to forget.

That is why it's vital to make sure that anyone who has experienced poverty has the opportunity at a great education.

This is my passion.

That passion is why I believe in community college students and why I write this blog. 

Because community colleges are places that allow people from humble beginnings to break the cycles of poverty and create better lives for themselves and their communities.

Community college students are bridge builders. 

And I want you to remember that every time you're struggling in class, every time you're not sure how you're going to make ends meet, every time you worry that you aren't "college material," every time you don't know what to do with your life, and every time you feel like you just can't move forward. 

With every class, with every A, with every degree, you are building an important bridge, for yourself and so many others around you.

Keep building, and along the way, bring others with you to share the view.  

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