How did I even know what college was? I don’t remember how I knew, I just knew that going wasn’t an option, it was something I was going to do, by any means necessary. What I wanted to be when I grew up changed a million times, but the decision to go to college did not. Where I ended up, was the last place I expected to be; yet, it ended up being the greatest blessing of my life.
After high school, I went away to Hampton University. My father had suggested I stick closer to home for the first couple of years of college, but like all kids with strict parents, I just wanted to get away from home and from my parents. Depression surfaced shortly upon arriving at Hampton, and the combination of depression and homesickness proved to be more than I could handle without a support system. I packed my belongings midway through first semester and moved back home.
I sat out the rest of the semester but decided to begin college again, at the local community college. The last place I said I’d ever attend college. No, I was too smart to be there, I thought. I remembered the jokes we told about community college in high school in my honors/advanced placement classes. ‘Tri-High’, or ‘Tri-Again’, we called it. I had no idea that I’d blossom the way I did, at community college.
The first year at community college was an adjustment. The second year was when I began to hit my stride.
A uno game, along with an urban sociology class, brought me out of my shell. I found a group of friends that became my second family. I met my now husband. I loved my classes.
As time would go on, I excelled in and outside of the classroom. I assumed leadership positions on campus and the community college quickly became my home away from home, my refuge. Community college gave me the confidence, the support I needed to succeed. Classes were small, allowing for us to get to know our professors. They knew our strengths and weaknesses, and they often pushed us to excel beyond our own beliefs. I didn’t even know I liked math, until my summer math professor pushed me to do my best each and every time. The first time I had ever gotten an A in mathematics, was in his class. I found out I loved economics, sociology, political science, psychology, and english. And math. Community college reminded me how much I love learning. By the time I finished my associates degree, I was happy to be continuing my education, but sad to be leaving. I absolutely loved that place. I loved the experiences I had there.
The nearby university was overwhelming. Suddenly I found myself in classes with 150 other people, with professors who didn’t care like the ones I had at community college. I returned to the community college to take classes and gather my bearings, and had the most amazing experiences of my life.
I was a big fish in a small pond, and I loved every minute of it. I had access to professors who were leaders in their fields, I had access to college deans and even the president of the college. I had opportunities available to me that I would have never gotten at the university, such as getting to be Editor-in-Chief of the campus newspaper, without having been on staff previously. Or going to New York City to a college journalism conference. Or getting the community college to sponsor my trip with United Way’s Alternative Spring Break program three years in a row. Or appear on local cable television representing the college with two other college newspaper editors. The community college was where I found out that I really could do anything I put my mind to.
Now that I have my degree, I want to give back. There were several professors, club advisors, the dean of student affairs & her staff, as well as my newspaper advisor who made college an unforgettable experience for me. They set the tone on campus, with the programming, the teaching, the advising, and really made being on campus a refuge for me of sorts. There were times when my home life was rather challenging, trying, but I knew that being on campus, involved in activities and excelling in the classroom was an oasis for me. I learned so much, inside and outside of the classroom. That community college was home for me. I knew it every time I stepped on campus, I never wanted to go home.
I hope that someday, I can help make a college campus a home away from home, a refuge, a place they can go to find peace, find themselves, and become better, especially for disadvantaged/first generation college students. There were things that my parents and family didn’t understand about me being in college, that my mentors and advisors and professors often did. To me, college is all about preparing young adults for life after receiving their degree and helping them become engaged adults ready to contribute to society.
I know that it’s a must, that I give back. I look back at my community college experience fondly and believe that everyone should have a college experience as amazing as the one that I had.