This is the story of how I earned my college diploma. It’s funny but when I first got it, I almost wanted to walk around with it, sharing it with the world, sharing its story. Well, I decided to take it to another level.
It all started in 2006, when I made the decision to break up with my ex boyfriend. I began doing things for myself; things that I hadn’t done before like taking better care of myself. I started with simple things like taking better care of my dental hygiene, going to the gym more often, and just improving my overall appearance.
I was working at the call center of an online auto parts company where I felt unappreciated and mentally unstimulated. If you have ever been at a job like this, you know how easy it is to get distracted. One day, while at work, I took an online survey to see what career best fit me. It listed several choices, one of which was architecture. And so, in spring of 2006, I went back to community college; which I had dropped out of in 2001 and enrolled in an architecture course. I was still working full-time, so I took an evening course.
My first day in class, I felt excited. I hadn’t stepped inside a classroom in so long, but it was enough to hook me; mental stimulation at last! As if that wasn’t enough my teacher was a great mentor as well. He was a cool, laid back type of professor. He would always wear shorts and sandals to class. I remember him telling me one day, to never allow anyone to choose my career for me.
After the semester ended, I decided to continue taking a variety of classes, to see which one sparked my interest most. I took a career course to help me decide, I even went to a school advisor. I eventually made it a goal to complete the general requirements to transfer to a university. I figured that by the time I completed all requirements, I would already have a major picked out. Besides, I was still working full-time and going to school part-time. I eventually narrowed my choice down to communications, after deciding that a career in psychology was not for me. And then one day, in one of my communications courses it happened, we were watching a special with John Stossel, an ABC news anchor. I thought, “this is a very intelligent man with knowledge in several subjects” and it dawned upon me, that I would love to have a job like that, a job where I could learn about several different subjects, and talk to people.
Transferring to a university was not an easy task for me, there was one subject which kept holding me back, it was the same subject, which nearly stopped me from graduating from high school, Math. I had a very difficult time passing intermediate algebra. In fact I had to take the course at least two times, before I eventually passed. What was my problem? It was the problem that I was having in life: I didn’t believe in myself, I didn’t trust myself; I didn’t trust that silent voice that kept telling me the answer. Once I had figured out what was holding me back, it became a lot easier. I became a better test-taker, I became a better me. I enjoyed math so much, that I even majored in it for a semester.
While I was going to school, I had an on-again off-again relationship, with the ex-boyfriend I broke up with ’06. My shift at work started at 5am and I headed to school right after. After school I got home tired but I still had to deal with my demanding ex-boyfriend and all of his needs, it was tiring. He wasn’t very supportive. I was blinded by this thing, which I once called love, but now know was just an intoxicating relationship. I became so tired of it one day, that I made the decision to move out. In the fall of ’06 I was determined to finish the relationship. I began looking for an affordable place to move into, with the intention of ending the relationship, once I found a place. I found an affordable duplex, packed up my things and moved out. I broke up with him that same day. He didn’t suspect it at all; he was too caught up in his own world that he didn’t see how unhappy I was. All I had were some boxes and my clothes; I slept on the brand new carpet of my new home that night curled up by the window. I was afraid and alone, I just cried myself to sleep that night. My sister moved in a few days later.
In the fall of 2009 I took a giant leap. I hadn’t decided if I wanted to transfer to a UC or CSU. The UC required that I take elementary statistics with probability. I chose to just go for it and take the statistics course, in case I decided to apply to a UC. This was a bit scary because in the math tutoring center, which I had frequented, people were always talking about statistics and how difficult it was. I already felt challenged by math in the first place, what on earth would this course hold for me? I was on track to transferring out and graduating from community college. I had taken winter courses as well as summer courses. I was grateful that this was all being paid by financial aid. The previous semesters, I had taken math alone so that I could focus more, however in ’09 I did something I never thought I would do, I took a required photography course along with statistics, all while still working full-time. I was in for a challenge unlike any other.
That same year, I was still dating my ex-boyfriend, I felt different though. I think that overcoming so many challenges at school had affected my self-esteem, I took better care of me, I had a life of my own, I had goals, something which I didn’t have when I first met him. He didn’t like the changes that I was making with myself because my life didn’t revolve around him like it had before. This put a huge strain on the relationship. So one night as I was walking back to my car from the math tutoring center, I was talking to god about this relationship, I figured out that the reason I kept returning was that he kept asking me to get back together. I realized that the only way it could finally be put to rest was if it was he who made the decision to break up. Before, it had always been me who broke up the relationship, but this time something amazing happened. I basically told the universe to take this man away from my life, that I had learned my lesson, that I didn’t want someone like that in my life anymore, as crazy as this may sound, my phone rang, It was him. He said that he had been thinking and that he decided that it was best to end the relationship. And that was it, I think I only cried one tear, because I was happy; it was finally over between him and I, no more tears over this relationship, and I never went back. I thanked god for having granted my wish.
When the fall semester started, I was single and happy. Typically, after a short break from school, it was difficult to get back into the routine of doing homework, especially that semester, since I was taking statistics along with photography. Well, when my first test score came back, it was like a slap in the face, I didn’t do very well. I had a goal of transferring out and graduating. I could not be held back by this course the same way I had been held back by my last math class. I didn’t want to have to repeat the class again; this was my wake up call. I decided to do anything in order to pass this class, I made up my mind and refused to fail. I wanted a nice ring for a while, so I made that my incentive, if I passed the course with an ‘A,’ I would buy myself a nice ring.
I did what I hadn’t done the previous semesters. In the morning, as I prepared for my day at work, I packed my dinner, along with my lunch and breakfast. I planned to go to the tutoring center right after class and do my homework there, instead of at home, where I would get distracted. At the tutoring center I would get assistance whenever I didn’t understand something and I would be able to complete my work. I would get home late too tired to do anything other than shower and get ready for the next day. Since my sister wasn’t a clean freak like I was, our place started to get messy, it irritated me to go home to a dirty place but my priorities were different, my grades came first; I would have to deal with it. This was my schedule Monday through Friday. My hard work paid off when I got my test scores, I rejoiced with happiness, one step closer to passing the course. I kept watch of how much closer I was to passing; one test at a time, each was a small step closer to the finish. When I got my final grade for the course, an ‘A’, I was happy. Considering that I had difficulties in math, I was impressed. I did it. I overcame one of my biggest hurdles in school-Math. As happy as I was at seeing my final grade, it was overcoming the small hurdles when I felt the happiest; the final score was just an accumulation of all the work I had put in.
Spring 2010 was my last semester at community college before I transferred; I had concerns at work because the last required courses for transferring were in the mornings. I had been at the auto parts company for many years, I developed a good relationship with my supervisor so I was able to make my own schedule and still go to school, he knew the quality of my work and trusted me. In the back of my mind though I knew that another set of layoffs was looming, my direct supervisor had moved out of state, I was the only one left at the main office, my department had been outsourced to the Philippines. I had been saved by the major layoffs that had occurred during the previous years, I felt blessed because I still had a job and even received a bonus the previous year which I used to buy my first new car. I had been with the company long enough to see it grow and eventually become public. A couple of weeks into February I noticed that the door code was changed, this only happened when someone got laid off, I wondered who it was. And so it happened, I was called into the human resources office and was given my severance payment along with other documents to sign. I was upset, I do admit, but a part of me also felt that it was time, that I was ready to move on, I never really planned to retire at that company, I always wondered when my time would come to leave, and eventually it did.
There I was, the start of a new semester and jobless, I knew that my severance payment could support me for a while but not long enough. I was still making payments on my brand new car and still had plans on transferring to a university. I needed to look for a new source of income in order to support my dream. I looked online and applied to a couple of places which I got no response from, I wasn’t able to apply to an office job because of my school schedule, the typical nine to five job didn’t work for me anymore. During the summer I worked for the US Census Bureau and did some canvassing for a political campaign which I knew nothing of, but it was a job and it was paying. It was a complete turnaround working outside knocking on doors in the summer heat versus my old air conditioned cubicle job, I enjoyed it though, I got to meet all sorts of people and with the Census, at least, it paid well.
I decided that I was going to stay close to home and apply to a local CSU. When I got my acceptance letter in the mail I was happy, I was uncertain if I would get accepted or not because I applied to an impacted major, my hopes were hinging on this school since I was declined by the other school I had applied to, I only applied to two, I told the universe, “if it’s not one of these two, I am not going.” Good thing for me I got accepted, it all worked for the best because it was financially easier for me to go to this school which was a lot closer to home.
My first semester at a university was a lot more challenging than I had anticipated; part of it was because of the classes that I decided to take my first semester. I overheard some of the other students say to put off taking mass media law until the last semester, well I was feeling like I was on top of the world and could handle anything, so I took that course along with an additional two other courses required. Up until then I had only taken six units or less which was part-time, but I was on a roll and really wanted to graduate soon, so I took nine units. These two decisions combined set me up for more than I had in mind, the first shock came when I got my test score back from my law class, it was a low score. The formatting of my law professor’s tests were unique, they were unlike anything I had seen before, this challenged me in ways I did not anticipate. I remember my first day of class feeling great and smiling, and slowly as the semester progressed my smile started to fade little by little, feeling the defeat of a course I thought I could not pass. “How could this be?” I thought, “My first semester, fail a course? What would happen to my financial aid?” I decided to talk to my professor, a very easy going gentleman and explained my situation to him, he gave me some hope, he said, “It’s not over till it’s over.” After that I decided to stick with the course and not drop out, it wasn’t until the end that I finally figured out his testing technique, it was genius and I loved it, had I only figured it out sooner I would have scored a better grade.
I really enjoyed the other courses I took, they totally sparked my interest and I loved the professors as well. I passed the other courses with a ‘B’, my law class a ‘C’ my first ‘C’ in a long time, but I passed. I learned my lesson, the following semester I would only take six units, it would take me longer to graduate but at least I would be able to handle the workload of going to school and working.
2010 was quite a year for me, after my lay off I held three different jobs during different months, two of which were temporary, and one at a well known auto parts place handling the technical hotline. I beat three other guys to get the job at the auto parts company, I felt proud of myself, and I really enjoyed working there. I even got paid more at this company, if I didn’t have the goal of getting my diploma I really could have seen myself growing with that company, I was mentally stimulated in my position there. However, when I looked at the classes I had to take the next semester, they didn’t fit with the schedule I had there, so I had to let go of this really cool job that paid me well. It was a risk I had to take because I had a goal, a dream to follow.
2011 came around and I was unemployed, since I had left my last job I did not qualify for benefits, the school semester would begin soon. I continued my job search as I went to school part-time. A few weeks into the semester I get an email from the financial aid department telling me that I do not meet the requirements due to my enrollment status, it turns out that one of the classes I was taking was only two units, something which I overlooked when I enrolled in the class. I was fortunate that I still had a considerable amount of money saved in the bank, though it was slowly dwindling, that semester I had to pay for my classes. I was in it for the long run. The grammar course I took that semester was not much fun for me, I didn’t understand it, there was material there that I felt I would have better understood if I had had a better foundation in public school. I struggled through it and barely passed. The semester ended and I was still looking for another job, in the mean time I was living off of my savings.
During the summer I got hired at a nutrition company and was thrilled. I started the fall semester happy that I was able to stay in school and financially support myself. For some reason things at my new job weren’t as great as I thought they would be, I did not find that mental stimulation like I had in my previous job. All sorts of things went through my mind, I was starting to get depressed just thinking of going to work, I was detesting the only thing I felt I really had in life-time. After some long thought I eventually decided to leave that job, my boss was surprised when he found out, he tried to make me stay but I told him that I tried but that I really didn’t enjoy being there, his response “it’s a job, you aren’t suppose to like your job” my thoughts “yeah right, you don’t know who you’re talking to” I had held some pretty awesome jobs that I really enjoyed. There I was again, unemployed. That year I only worked 4 months. In the meantime school was already in progress so I continued to go and look for a job that would fit around my class schedule. Months passed and still no job, it wasn’t until the end of December that I found a job selling kitchen cutlery, I was excited, I found a job I thought I could do and felt that I would enjoy. I had done sales before and knew that I would be good at it.
In the meantime I was still able to attend school since this new job allowed me to create my own schedule. It supported me for several months; I did sales with friends that I had made along the way through my previous jobs. Never in my mind did I think that it would be these people that would literally help support me as I continued to pursue my dream. Sales began to stagnate and I was getting concerned as to how I was going to pay my bills which were piling up, my savings were depleted. So in 2012 I did what I had never done before in my life, I started to use my credit card to pay for bills, I didn’t see any other option, I still needed to pay my car bill and other expenses.
The previous year, during my job searches I sent out applications everywhere, I really had nothing to lose so I just sent them out and didn’t think anything of them. Back track to when I dropped out of community college in 2001 I enrolled in a vocational school to get a diploma in massage therapy, after my first job as a massage therapist I wasn’t able to find another one, everywhere I applied asked for experience which I didn’t have much of since I only had about a month’s worth of experience. That’s when I decided to apply to the auto parts company that laid me off. Fast forward to 2012, just as money seemed to be scarce I get a random phone call from someone from a massage place asking me if I was interested in an opening they had, so of course I said ‘yes’. As I was waiting to be interviewed by the owner of the massage studio I felt some sort of joy like I was exactly where I was supposed to be, that feeling flooded my eyes with tears. During the interview the subject of my lack of experience came up, it started to seem like I wasn’t going to get the job, when the owner asked me if I wanted to go through with the practice part of the interview I said ‘yes’, I really had nothing to lose. For whatever reason it may be, she liked the massage I gave her and hired me. I was now working two jobs and going to school.
After seeing the challenge that I had with grammar in my last class I decided to take a news editing course to help me improve my skills, I honestly can say that I felt lost, if it was one thing that the class made me realize it’s that I had my work cut out for me. I passed the course though it was not the best grade. Sometime between all these challenges I second guessed whether or not I had chosen the right career path, if that was what I really wanted to do, I noticed I had other interests that caught my attention and realized I had always had a special knack for but just ignored thinking that I could never make a career out of it. With the turn of the century I noticed an increase in self-awareness, the field of spirituality was becoming more open and accepted, this is what caught my interest my whole life but I never really noticed it. I considered dropping out, after all the work that I had done I just felt overwhelmed and doubtful. During the semester I always took advantage of the free gym membership that my tuition paid for, most of the time I would go to the group exercises. During one of my down days I went to the gym for one of my favorite classes, cycling, the teacher typically guides us through the whole ride and gives us motivating words of encouragement. That day she said something that caught my attention, “You finish what you started,” those were the words that I needed to hear, from that point forward dropping out of college was no longer an option, I was in it for the long run.
Financial aid had been paying for my tuition thus far, I applied again during the spring of 2011 as I normally would, and after a couple of months I get a response informing me that I was eligible for a grant. At first I wasn’t sure what that was, this had never been offered to me before, so I Google it and find out that it’s a form of financial aid that I don’t have to pay back. After realizing what was being offered to me I just start crying, I had been struggling to pay my bills to make my dream a reality and now my journey was made a little easier since I didn’t have to pay back the money for tuition. I was grateful, I was really grateful, it reminded me that I was being taken care of by something greater than myself and that I just needed to, “Let go and let god,” as the saying goes.
From that point on the road was much clearer, I had already mapped out my last two years at school, I was on my way to graduating. I really took the time to enjoy my last couple of years at school; I attended campus events frequently and completed my homework on time. I was just finishing up the requirements for my minor and took journalism classes that would give me a feel for what I may get into out in the field, these were part of the upper division courses. How I was able to get the courses I needed to graduate, during a time when classes were being cut due to budget cuts, I will say was divine intervention. I had trust that what needed to be would be, that everything happened for a reason. With this state of mind, when one of the classes I enrolled in during my last fall semester was cancelled, I made a decision to go against the advice of my school advisor and finish taking all three classes that I needed in order to complete my minor. Initially I was going to split it into two semesters, as I had been advised, but when the journalism class I was taking for fun was cancelled, I just saw it as a sign. Since I was on financial aid, I had to be enrolled in school at least half time in order to meet the requirements. So I looked online for another Spanish course that would fit my schedule and found it, there were open spots still available and I could fit my work schedule around it. It was perfect. I went to school during the week and worked at the massage studio on weekends.
Business was a bit slow at work and I only got paid if I saw a client, but this didn’t deter me from my goal, my sister was kind enough to help support me whenever I needed it, she would buy the food and general necessities at home, I made just enough to just pay my bills and would use a credit card as needed. I will hand it to my advisor; one of the classes was a little challenging, I do admit, but still enjoyable. My other two classes were a bit of a challenge as well, but because I really enjoyed the reading assignments, they weren’t too bad. I did go through some tough moments though; one of those tests required me to remember a whole lot of material which blew my mind. Regardless, as I mentioned, because I enjoyed the subject matter, I was able to remember all the facts that I needed. I remember when I took my first test for one of my Spanish classes I thought I did poorly but when I got my test back I got an ‘A’. Wow, I was surprised, I told myself that I really needed to just do my best and let it go, to stop worrying about nothing. I did fairly well in my classes; there was just one course that challenged me a bit more. In the end it was that one class that kicked me in the butt, I read the instructions to the final exam at least three times to make sure I understood what was being asked, the teacher had a tendency of always changing the instructions, which is why I read them over more than once. Well to my surprise I didn’t read the instructions well enough because the teacher contacted the class informing everyone that there were a few students, that’s me, that didn’t read the instructions and because of this she was going to change her grading for the exam. I passed the course but had I read the instructions carefully I would have had a better grade. It was my last exam at the university, I had finally made it to the end, I was happy. The irony in this last exam is that that was the problem that I was having in one of the courses during my first semester at the university, I can still remember my teacher telling me “you are shooting yourself in the foot every time you do that”, some lessons are hard to learn.
My sister was one of my biggest supporters, and my inspiration, for getting my degree; I figured if she could do it, so could I. The fact that I made it all the way through has been one of my biggest achievements in life, I broke down obstacles that made me realize just how capable I am of doing the things I set my mind to, and that the only limitations that I really ever had were false beliefs of what I could or could not do. I used to think that I was never college material, that I would never get accepted to any college, “Who would want me?,” I used to think. That saying, “Showing up is half the battle,” is true, along the way I met some fellow students whose scholastic abilities made me scratch my head sometimes, “How did they make it so far not knowing these things?,” I wondered. There were times that I would do all the work during group activities just to get a passing grade because my classmates didn’t understand what the teacher was asking for, I didn’t complain, I took responsibility that I was the only one in the group that knew what to do and was grateful for my knowledge. The day that I picked up my diploma from school and saw it for the very first time I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever laid my eyes on, there it was, what I had worked for and struggled for so long, my name on this piece of paper with all rights, privileges and honors thereunto appertaining. It wasn’t until I posted a picture of it to my social network and got my first congratulatory remark that it finally hit me, I made it, I finally made it, all the hard work, all the sacrifice, everything, I just started sobbing at all that I had been through, victory at last, my dream at last. There was something in me that always knew I could do it, that one light that carried me through all the challenges in spite of my doubtful thinking. After achieving my dream I felt like I could do anything, chase my next dream, and finally do what my heart asked of me. But what was it that my heart ultimately yearned for? That’s the next journey.