College can be a terrifying and confusing experience. Bright-eyed and hopeful, we enter this new world half expecting to see the romanticized images depicted in movies we watched in junior high. However, students are quickly slapped in the face with a not so refreshing dose of reality.
Higher education, for me, has been a true test of bravery littered with mornings that I had to battle with myself to get out of bed. I’d lay there wondering “Is this really worth it? I’m in my sixth year and I still don’t have a diploma. Why should I even care?”
Before anymore questions could be posed, the hard-nosed voice in my head would quip, “Idiot, of course this is worth it!”
I have haggled with this alternate persona of mine for years now over the importance of a community college education and the lengthy process it can take to get a diploma.
While some will sell it short, the time I have spent at Pierce is irreplaceable and worth twice what I would have experienced at a four-year university.
True, this ain’t no picnic and you’ll flounder a bit if you don’t have an inkling of what you want to major in. But once you’ve found your arrow it isn’t hard to follow and capture that happy ending.
When I graduated from William Howard Taft High School, I was hell bent on getting out of town and studying at one of the Ivy League or “Big 8” universities. My grades were pristine and I had enough extracurricular activities to choke a hose. However, every letter I received from the institutions I applied to cut my dreams down to size.
The one I was accepted into did not offer financial assistance and would cost over $40,000 a year without housing fees and meals included. So I could either sell an arm, a leg, and a kidney to pay for a fancy university or I could go to Pierce and keep my limbs and vital organs.
It was not a hard call to make.
Like my peers at the time, I was brought up with a preconceived bias against community colleges. We were taught that these establishments were essentially “houses for wayward students” and that the hard workers that had a purpose went to universities.
Soon enough, this myth was debunked.
The bulk of my personal development happened during the four years I spent “figuring myself out.” If I had attended a university fresh out of high school, I would not have had this prolonged grace period to switch around my majors and make mistakes. Students are given one year, at best, to find their calling before having to double down and work.
Furthermore, the class sizes were a fraction of what they would have been at a four-year. Marine Biology with forty seats and three extra for crashers? Yes please! Open spots in American History and French 2? Done and done!
Trucking along, I also became well acquainted with professors that would shape my world more than words could possibly say.
After realizing that I was not cut out to be an archaeologist or a sculptor, I returned to my first love, journalism.
While other fifth grade girls dreamt of being actresses or the next Spice Girl, I wanted to be Walter Cronkite. I was so plugged in to the events around the schoolyard, my information was more reliable than the weekly bulletins.
The morning I stepped foot in the newsroom at Pierce was like a fish returning to the water. It was a homecoming. Paradise had been found and it made all the difference.
When students find their niche, they thrive and the fabled networks that were so hard to locate suddenly begin popping up. As a member of the Media Arts family, I have worked alongside professors that are professional journalists first, pseudo parents second, and tough love instructor’s third.
The people I have encountered while on assignment were only available because of the connections laid out before my time by reporters of semesters past.
The pioneering NASA rocket scientist. The marine biologist whose work is at the center of an upcoming documentary. The archaeologist who fought to save the remnants of an indian settlement from bulldozers. The globe-trotting sociologist that challenges students to see the world through the eyes of a revolutionary.
Had I gone to an Ivy League university, I would not have met these impressive characters. I would not have the experience that comes from being a reporter if I had rushed through community college.
Because I took my time and sampled what was offered I have learned who I am, what I want to be, and how I am going to there. I found my true north and a path that can be followed.
Though the life of a student is never easy, it helps to have a crew in your corner ready to tap in when the odds are stacked against you. The years we spend at community college should be seen as a chance to make mistakes, learn from them, meet our friends and future colleagues, and use the opportunities our professors provide us with.
In retrospect, I would not change a thing that I have done in these past six years. The person I am now and the future I have to look forward to are a product of those long nights spent studying and afternoon cram sessions. And while it took a while to get here, the view from the top was well worth the wait.