My first attempt at college started in the fall of 2003, and it wasn’t easy. I started out as the typical, fresh-out-of-high-school college freshman; I was unsure of my academic goals and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, so I decided to go straight to my neighborhood community college and go from there. My first year of community college was spent dropping classes if I didn’t like them, trying to get accustomed to college independence, and changing my major—all very normal reactions of a college freshman. My second year of college, however, was much harder emotionally. My parents got an ugly divorce which tore my family apart, but the emotional rollercoaster didn’t stop there. A year later, my siblings and I found out that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. The combination of my parents’ divorce and my mom having cancer triggered a deep depression inside of me. I cried all the time, gained a lot of weight, and lost all motivation for anything and everything in my life, the biggest one being school. So I dropped out.
As it turns out, dropping out of school was a good call because I was able to focus on getting my life back together. During my two-year hiatus, I received treatment for my depression and lost almost all of the weight I had gained; my parents resolved their differences and became friends again; and most importantly, my mom’s cancer was treated. Life improved dramatically over those two years, so much to the point where I felt ready to tend to some unfinished business: getting my degree.
I can’t decide which was harder: going to college for the first time, or going back after taking a two-year hiatus. For me, returning to school meant returning to a very ugly transcript filled with mostly D’s, F’s and W’s because of all the classes I had dropped or just stopped attending during my depression stage. I barely had a 2.0 GPA, but that was only one of the obstacles I would have to overcome; the other obstacles included deciphering my academic goals: Should I just get an A.A. or pursue a B.A.? If so, where should I transfer to? Should I continue working towards a degree in Photography or change my major to something else? Along with trying to get back into the groove of college, there was something else on my mind. There I was at age 22, essentially starting college all over again, when many others my age were either finishing college or already done. I couldn’t help but compare myself to my friends who had already graduated, and beat myself up for not being done with school as well. I felt like I was behind in life, which also made me feel insecure at times. Needless to say, I had a lot of work ahead of me, and it all seemed very overwhelming, but I was determined to start over and give college a second try.
My first semester back was a great one. I was dedicated to my classes which resulted in good grades at the end of the semester. Not a single D, F, or W to be found. This dedication was the motivation I needed to realize that maybe I really could do the college thing after all. Maybe I could raise my grades, transfer to a university, and get my degree. The more I thought about the possibility of accomplishing all of these things, the more I wanted to make them a reality, and so a new goal was born: I would finish up my lower division G.E. at my community college, transfer to CSUS, and graduate with my B.A. in English.
It took two more semesters at my community college before I transferred to CSUS in the beginning of 2009. I still remember how I felt when I found out I had been accepted: excited and accomplished. Not only would I finally be going to a real university, but transferring meant I was halfway there to achieving my goal; I was finally able to catch a tiny glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. Little did I know, however, that I had a long two years ahead. Every semester was filled with 16 to 18 units. One semester included two part-time jobs and an internship. There were two semesters that included my being involved in time-consuming dance concerts. And of course, there was the semester my mom died. There was a lot of stress, craziness, and hardship, but it only fueled my determination to graduate from college and achieve my goal.
For many people my age, graduating from college is not a big deal to them. Maybe their parents are paying for them to go. Maybe they are only going because they feel like it’s expected. Maybe they aren’t going to college at all because it’s not for them. For me, graduating from college was important to me for many reasons: to get an education, to make my family proud, to experience an important life milestone. And most importantly, to prove to myself that I am strong enough to finish something so challenging, regardless of what I’ve been through in the past.
Last Saturday, I graduated from CSUS with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a 3.3 GPA. Even though English isn’t the hardest major, CSUS isn’t the best school, and 3.3 isn’t considered honors, I’m still incredibly proud of my accomplishment. Thinking about how I was once on academic probation and how I almost didn’t finish school makes me realize how far I’ve come in the last three and a half years. I’ve also realized that graduating from college in four years is not as feasible as it once was, so I shouldn’t beat myself up over taking so long anymore, especially due to my circumstances. The most important thing for me to remember is that I set a goal, stuck with it, and achieved it. I have crossed item number one off my Life List. I have won the race, and it feels absolutely amazing.