The Open Classroom will periodically invite students to write about their school experiences and highlight the people, programs or events that assisted them on their educational journey.
I was cleaning out my closet, deciding which items I would need to bring with me for college this fall, and I came across a pile of my old uniform shirts. I realized I spent the last three years with "College-Ready Institute" patched above my chest, as my shirts changed from blue my sophomore year, to grey my junior year, and black my graduating year at Environmental Science and Technology High School (ESAT). This fall, however, I will have no badge or color designation to show my growth, only myself and my work.
At ESAT the "SWBAT" (students will be able to) standards were projected onto every classroom board and voiced along with the ever present question, "how is this college-ready?" It was in one of these classrooms when I first realized I was in love with English. Reading J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" in Mrs. Snyder's 10th grade class confirmed it. That was when literature and writing became more than an assignment or a standard to learn, but a personal experience that resonated deeply for me. Mrs. Snyder would bring such contagious passion for the written word into the classroom that I signed up for her AP Literature the following year. She held one-on-one conferences with us to figure out what we each needed to improve our writing and our performance in class. The most valuable thing I learned during that time, however, was how much responsibility and authority I actually had for what and how I thought or explored ideas.
Throughout my experience at ESAT, I felt I was never given the answers, but was guided through my own process to find them. In essence, I learned how to think and analyze on my own, a skill I know will be essential for me to bring to college. Beyond that, I just so happened to be surrounded by individuals who were engaged and interested in learning. This fostered a culture in the classroom that I wanted to keep up with and be a part of. The investment of college requires me to really want to learn, and this is certainly something I gained working and growing amongst my peers. Moreover, our counselor, Mrs. Gonzalez was absolutely tireless in ensuring that we were navigating the college application process with the necessary tools and knowledge. We attended workshops for completing the Common Application or the UC applications. In class, time was allotted to filling out the FAFSA financial aid forms, and making sure we had individuals available for help throughout the process.
I also remember the hours of dedication spent on Saturdays sitting in SAT prep classes organized by College Match, an organization with the mission of providing low-income students in Los Angeles the same advantages that upper income students have getting into selective colleges. My academic track record allowed me the good fortune to participate in the program. In addition to academic prep classes the program also provided opportunities to visit and gain exposure to prestigious colleges on the East Coast. Touring these campuses broadened my ideas of what and where I could be in life. I rode a bus with my peers for two weeks, staying in motels or rooming with students at the colleges we visited such as Brown, Yale and Dartmouth. I got to see what independence and responsibility really meant, being away from family for the first time. I made it a goal to come back.
There were, of course, the long nights of writing and rewriting my personal statement and supplemental essays with the support of the College Match mentors. The unbearable anxiety of waiting for my life to begin, as acceptance letters started to come in, mixed in with "wait listed" and an even more disappointing...rejection letters. But the program really helped me to pinpoint and sharpen all of my assets that would be considered in the acceptance process. Beyond good grades, I learned to have a good balance of extracurriculars, high SAT or ACT scores and well-polished essays.
I am so grateful to have been provided such resources and guidance through what seemed like a daunting mountain to climb. I know what helped me to succeed was constantly keeping in mind what I was working towards -- a vision of the kind of life I wanted for myself, with independence and stability. Despite the difficult and tedious process, everything was always careening towards a future that only now I'm able to clearly see. Vassar College looms over the horizon of my warm, hazy summer. My dreams, now closer, more tangible, are traceable along the New York City skyline.
With only the certainty of what I know, paired with vague ideas of what I can do with a love of writing and travel, I've decided that I will be majoring in the field of "Still Figuring It Out." I am a firm believer in having plans and backup plans and direction in life, but I also don't think a little bit of uncertainty is such a bad thing at this time. Part of my decision to attend a liberal arts college is to have the opportunity to be somewhat of a sponge my freshman year, absorbing what I can from a variety of disciplines and exposing myself to different possibilities, before I define a certain path for myself.
This journey is bittersweet, however, because I must pack light. I can't bring the familiarity of L.A. and my friends and family with me. But I do carry a tremendous amount of pressure to have made such a big decision to move miles and miles away. The financial aspects of a college education, let alone a private college education, has kept my parents, especially my mother, awake at night, and not just because she works night-shifts to help provide for us. There is also the separation, which I feel hasn't dawned on me completely just yet. I realized one night, as I sat up with my parents on Google Maps, measuring the distance that would be between us, that I'd be at a college completely on the opposite end of the country. I can't help but feel that with all this work and sacrifice, I mustn't come back until I have significant accomplishments to show for it.
With the long distance from home comes a new freedom that is both tremendously exciting and terrifying. I will be able to indulge myself in new knowledge and spend what will probably be the only time in my life immersed in a place full of people my age from all over the world. I will also finally have a chance to explore what were once only tales of overrated college parties, red plastic cups and all. Most importantly, in a land of new faces and ideas, I must somehow reconcile where I came from and what I want to become. Perhaps I will return with new eyes.