She sits in a gym packed full of bustling, bored, and talkative freshmen students, meant to be silently sitting on the floor. Many of her peers sit, arm around a friend, heads turned, barely muffling their laughs, their conversation a consistent interruption of the passionate representative standing at the front. The community college representative seemingly unfazed by the inattentiveness of the prospective recruits in front of her, perhaps focused on a girl who seemed to be the only one interested in what she’s saying.
Jammed somewhere towards the front of the sea of bored teens, there sits one very enthusiastic participant. Sarah, in the middle of it all, body-titled forward, earnestly listening, raising her hand every time the speaker pauses, asking questions about this and that.
Sarah has already made up her mind that community college is perfect for her life plan. Earlier this year, she had spent hours poring over poring over college courses she could take to graduate earlier from high school and narrowed down community colleges around her that she could take those courses at. Her first try with taking a college course at a community college nearby was (insert class she took). She learned to love the independence the teachers provided her, the intoxicating atmosphere of freedom, and the way professors treated her with respect were in stark contrast to high school. So she did some more research about the benefits of going to community college (2 free years of tuition, more time to decide a major, high transfer rates in her local junior colleges, smaller more intimate classes). And just like that she was set in her decision, she would go to community college after high school.
“Whatever you choose for you choose for the next 4 years of your life should be the most personalized one, not necessarily the most mainstream”
Finally, the cheery speaker dismisses the freshman, and the presentation is over just like that. Pulling herself up and brushing the fuzzy strands the carpet shed on her, Sarah follows the swarm of students pushing and shoving to get out. Suddenly, Sarah is pushed back as a boy, eager to get to lunchline first, barrels into her on his way out of the gym. She is pushed between a pair of friends, leaving her sandwiched between them. She notices the girl on her left, is a distant friend of hers, who continues speaking to the girl on the right of Sarah, either not noticing the newest addition to their duo or not caring. Her friend smiles at Sarah in the middle of her sentence, apparently claiming her as part of the conversation now.
“God I can’t believe we sat here for an ENTIRE hour! That was totally useless.” the girl on her right complains.
“I know right, I mean we already know whose going where”, she half whispers half chuckles while side-eyeing a boy to their right, well known for rarely coming to school and never participating in class.
“Right Sarah?” says her acquaintance, before giving Sarah a knowing look as if she’s in on the joke.
Sarah feels her stomach sink and her hands fiddle uncomfortably before deciding to speak up.
“Actually I was thinking of going to community college.” she says in a tone she hopes come off as confident. She gets confused looks from both girls.
“I mean I can finish my general education there for free for the first 2 years and transfer with this thing called the TAG program it’s actually really-”
“Oh, I thought you were going into engineering though? Aren’t you in the STEM program here?.” Her acquaintance gives her a sad/confused/concerned little look.
“Yea, don’t think like that Sarah, you’re in the robotics club and you don’t have bad grades, don’t sell yourself short.” she says giving me what she assumes is a reassuring smile and a quick pat on the back that feels like a kick to the gut.
“But don’t you want to at least try getting into a university before? I mean your grades aren’t that bad.”
“Yea…thanks…” Sarah mumbles, dipping her head as she feels her face get hot with shame, all the while wanting to get out of this conversation as fast as humanly possible.
“(Their criticism) felt very loud and the words between the lines were being said every day”
Throughout her remaining years of high school, she faced similar sentiments from other bay area students. Whether it be in the form of their confused looks, pitying glances seeming to say poor thing, she can do better, or a lack of warmth or genuine well-meaning in the congrats when she mentioned where she was going, their judgment followed her.
So she kept that idea with her, the expectations they projected onto her, up until junior year. Even though it was against what she wanted, when she begrudgingly began researching four-year colleges. Even though she hated it, when her entire universe told her what she was doing was wrong, was cheating herself, taking the normal path felt like she was satisfying the universe. So she was able to ignore the nagging feeling in the back of her brain.
“I couldn’t even rationalize it because I wasn’t even fully convinced of it, I’d lost why I was doing it.”
Sarah is sitting in her room, after hours of researching 4-year colleges with an empty, dreading feeling in her stomach. She’s in her last few weeks of junior year summer, the clock is ticking and she’s been feeling the pressure of choices she had once pushed aside begin demanding attention now. Looking at college after college, she realized just how many options she had, was she going out of state, international, or local? What about college apps, she was doing them, but finding the motivation to do something she wasn’t even confident she wanted herself was increasingly hard. And what did she want to major in? And adding up the sheer amount of money it would cost for her dorms, food, transportation, and not to mention the tuition she felt the seemingly never-ending stream of conflicts drag her down. Just thinking about all this she feels a cold sweat start to pour down her forehead, her breath starts to quicken and the room seems to get darker. The bright light of her computer shines brightly compared to her surroundings, almost taunting her. NO, I have to do this. She forces herself to stare back at she screen, sweat pooling around her neck, and a weight like an anchor in her stomach, and all of a sudden it feels like she’s drowning.
“When I’m doing things for other people it doesn’t benefit them nor does it benefit me.”
Sarah abruptly pushes her chair back, standing up and walking about from the computer to take a deep breath outside. She’s had enough. Finally she asks herself the most simple question, the one she had been avoiding to answer honestly all these years.
“Do I even want to do this?”, she wonders aloud to herself. And to her surprise, the answer, what she’s known all along, since freshman year pops up easily.
Sarah walks inside, a new determination, and she opens that computer again, armed with her old newfound knowledge of what she wants. She weaponizes her curser and begins purging the tabs on her computer. Which UC is for me? Closed. Benefits of studying abroad. Click. How to afford 4 year colleges. Gone. With every tab closed she feels a weight removed in her stomach, a lightness. Maybe she didn’t have to drown. A plan begins to emerge from the things that had plagued her endlessly before. She needs extra time to lock down her major and doesn’t have the money to waste on two years figuring that out. She could go to community college for 2 years, saving money on tuition and staying at home, that way she could finish all her general education before transferring to university. She sits in front of her computer screensaver, looking into the reflection that is staring back at her and takes a deep breath. She holds it in along with everything else, all the expectations she’d internalized, all the anxiety over disappointing people who didn’t know her, the pressure that had once suffocated her. And let it out.
“I’m investing in myself…and I can’t picture something not positive coming out from this.”
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