Nearly two months have passed since I've been in college, and honestly, the fact that I'm actually here still manages to amaze me. It's in these times that I find myself reflecting on how I got here, which is actually quite a tale.
I always knew I was going to college. And when I was younger, this fact was bred from the same reasons everyone else had: college meant success, financial security, social status, and worth. Since preschool, college was advertised as the institutional endgame; it didn't matter what my goals were or whether I even knew what I wished to do; if I wanted respect in society, then attending college was mandatory. So, I had these societal expectations prodding me, and then I also had these familial expectations, expectations which made it clear that pursuing higher education was the only way to honor the years of immigrant pain and labor that brought me to this promised land.
Thus for me, continuing my education became not only a matter of making my loved ones proud and proving to my parents that their efforts weren't wasted after all, but also of changing the material-driven mindset that validated the insistence on getting a college education.
Over the course of my years at Highline High School, I reminded myself of this purpose as I tried my best to challenge myself academically, socially, and emotionally. And a true challenge it was. At times the school environment made it difficult to feel motivated to succeed. Regardless, I invested my time and energy into activities that I believed had the potential to positively influence Highline's culture, and that's how I found solace: in caring for those around me. Because of my upbringing, I understood the value in selflessness and leaving the world better than I had found it.
Through my extracurricular activities, I slowly found my voice, identified my strengths and weaknesses, and refined my aspirations. But when Junior year arrived, I found that I still had no idea where I wanted to go to college yet alone how to begin my college application process.
So, when I heard about CAN (thanks to the brilliant Sewheat Asfaha, who became my 11th grade AmeriCorps College Coach), I signed up immediately. This was undoubtedly one of the best decisions I made in high school, but I would only realize this much later because I didn't feel as fulfilled as I expected during my first year. I regularly attended sessions and consistently checked in with my coach. I felt supported and I felt informed. I felt like I checked off all the right boxes. Yet, despite the fondness I had for my coach and my fellow cohort members, I felt disengaged and as if I was missing something. And that's how I continued to feel well into my first semester of senior year.
Having been independent and self-kept since early childhood, I opted to bear the weight of my future on my shoulders alone. I convinced myself that I didn't need help on applications, especially when I wanted to keep the emotional turmoil I had at the time from becoming anyone else's burden. I began by proof-reading my own personal statements and trying to answer my own questions as I quietly hopped back and forth between the FAFSA, college applications, and every other extraneous hoop. And all this I did while juggling my school work, extracurricular activities, and familial obligations on top of unsuccessfully handling my internal issues. As you would expect, this didn't bode too well, and I soon found myself breaking down at the seams.
I long envisioned myself strictly in local schools because 1) my family could never even dream of affording to send me elsewhere, 2) the thought of leaving my home state was unthinkable, 3) I never cared to explore my options, and 4) I doubted my own abilities and dismissed the possibility that I would ever so much as step foot on the nation's most prestigious educational institutions. But, there were people in my life who saw in me what I couldn't see in myself and who constantly told me how far I could go, how "deserving" I was of receiving the best education that the world had to offer. I ultimately felt the need to attend school somewhere far from home, for personal and practical, logistical reasons.
Like many CAN students, my parents never attended college; my mother believed UW Seattle was the pinnacle of higher education, and she wanted nothing more than for her daughter to attend a local school. You can imagine the guilt I felt when I submitted the application for the one Washington state school I seriously considered, a school which was absolutely not UW Seattle, and which would have required me to move out of the house.
And that wasn't even the hardest part. My greatest concern during the entire application process turned out to be something less extreme: writing about myself. I didn't know how to best convey myself to strangers who would acquaint themselves with me in a mere matter of seconds, so I wrote several versions of the same story. Essay after essay, there was always something to be dissatisfied about, something missing, too many words, too many instances in which I couldn't distinguish my true voice from the voice of the persona I had constructed. Even after I had sent in my personal statements, I still felt unnerving unease. This feeling worsened as I waited for Spring to come, anticipating, like most students, a slew of rejection.
In March, however, I received five crisp and bold acceptance letters in the mail: one from Western Washington, one from Swarthmore, one from Pomona, one from Yale, and one from Harvard—all five of the schools I had applied for. I was shocked, giddy, proud, and...torn. Having had prepared myself for the worst, I was in no way prepared for this, especially when word finally spread and I was widely met with affirmation and opinions that pulled me back and forth between my options. Suddenly, my business became everyone else's, and many people who weren't me were convinced they knew where I belonged when even I couldn't say for myself where that was.
After an agonizing month of college visits and deliberations, I accepted Pomona's offer on the night of National College Decision Day. I'm not exaggerating when I say that clicking the "accept" and "reject" buttons turned out to be one of the most difficult things I'd ever done. Since then, people have asked me why I didn't choose Harvard or Yale and how I could have possibly turned down such offers. To each person who asked, I offered a different answer. But each answer I offered was true, because I based my decision on such an immense number of reasons that a casual conversation would never suffice to fully communicate my story. The simple answer is that, considering what I'd learned about myself throughout my life, Pomona would be the most conducive to my growth, and the thought of attending put my heart at ease in an inexplicable but reassuring way.
It would be my 12th grade CAN AmeriCorps College Coach, the ever-fabulous Reid Smith, who helped me most in getting through this period and in making a decision that felt right.
I feel humbled to have his companionship, and I am eternally grateful for all he has done to remind me of my self-worth and to give me a sense of grounding and peace. Reid answered all of my college questions and offered to look over my forms and my essays, ensuring that I was on track for life after graduation. Simultaneously, Reid also reminded me to embrace vulnerability and to value my emotions, ensuring that I was a thriving human being. He celebrated my accomplishments and encouraged me to email the school I'm at now when a complication prompted them to close my file. If I hadn't done so, I honestly wouldn't be where I am today. This is another reason why CAN means so much to me: the coaches truly care about you, and they are as attentive in their concern as they are spirited in their joy.
I think a lot about my CAN experiences here at Pomona, where I'm currently undecided about my major. I'm contemplating a career in either environmental analysis or social work, so classes pertaining to those are definitely on my list. But honestly, with only four years to explore as I please, I simply want to learn anything and everything I can so that I can better understand myself and the world around me.
While by no means easy, college has been wonderful so far. I'm continuously amazed by how genuine, supportive, thoughtful, kind, and passionate everyone is here, from my fellow students, to the professors, to the staff in charge of the daily operations we often fail to acknowledge in everyday society. I'm thankful each day to be in such good company. As for what excites me, I'm most looking forward to is seeing how I'll develop over the course of this year, and what opportunities I'll take advantage of, especially when I have yet to fully utilize my resources.
The thing is, what often happens in life is that you find your rhythm as you go, and what's beautiful about college are the many opportunities to explore and to find what you truly like and dislike; Colleges know this. In fact, they want you to embrace this so that you expand your horizons, take advantage of your resources to the fullest, and go on to serve society in the way most resonant with you.
Thank you so much for reading for my story.
In love and gratitude,
a proud member of your CANmunity