When I first came to Cal State Fullerton, I felt I had an idea of what to expect.
I would hear from people like my older cousin, who talked about college being such a great experience liberating experience compared to high school.
Not very many people went to college in my family, and while my parents could support me financially with certain aspects of school, the journey of college was my own.
I thought I was going to love college, but what I didn’t anticipate was how challenging it would be compared to high school.
There were no more teachers bugging me for homework and no more detentions for being late to class. I felt I was on my own from the moment I left my parents’ home. The responsibility was all mine for the first time in my life, and I didn’t know what to do with it.
I experienced how few people on campus were invested in my education, experience and future, which was entirely foreign to me.
It’s not necessarily that others on campus didn’t care about my successes or failures, it’s that others weren’t going to invest in me if I didn’t invest in myself. College is about being self-sufficient. The epiphany that I was either going to flourish or flounder depending on how seriously I took my education was especially bittersweet.
No one — not even my family or friends — could prepare me for the sobering reality that college can be a lonely experience and that I was largely on my own to navigate the ins and outs of college life.
For instance, the registration process was particularly overwhelming. Class enrollment can seem like a free-for-all, and I realized that if I didn’t ask pertinent questions, then Admissions and Records wouldn’t take me seriously.
It all came down to how I approached the seriousness of earning an education. The more informed I was, the more doors opened for me and the better people working in Admissions, and counseling served my interests.
While no one prepared me on how to communicate when I needed something on campus, in retrospect, I’m glad I learned this essential lesson because it made me more diligent.
Time management was another vital skill I didn’t have going into my classes. Just because I had class at 11 a.m. didn’t mean I could sleep in until 10:30 a.m. and run to class to make it in the nick of time. I learned the value of time as I planned my work and study schedule around my classes.
And of course, deadlines are crucial and perhaps the most neglected part of college by students. I didn’t understand how necessary it was to look on the university website and check for important deadlines.
The academic part is obviously difficult, but when I got a bad grade, I couldn’t sulk, hide or quit. I was forced to tackle the issue head on and not give up, learning along the way that failure truly can be an opportunity in disguise.
Personally, I’ve been through so many ups and downs in my college journey. I’m 32 now and trying to finish what I started 14 years ago, and what keeps me going is this undying belief that I will make something of myself. I owe it to my family for allowing me the opportunity to finish.
Despite the struggles, it has been a great learning experience, and I immensely grateful for it. College is more than learning how to think critically; it’s also about perseverance. Realizing that I don’t know everything and have to seek out answers has been one of the most humbling lessons of my life, but I am also humbled by the fact that I am here today because someone took care of me, and one day I want to pay it forward.
Be gracious at graduation and thank the people who took care of you and helped get you to where you are. Remember, success and failure are both fleeting, and there is always another step to take.