Well, it is now official, I am a college graduate. I may not have been able to have a proper graduation but I am able to hold my diploma in my hands, and it’s an amazing feeling, I worked so hard for this. I struggled so much over the years and because of issues with my mental and physical health, I spent almost 15 years trying to just get a two-year degree. And given the trauma of my brother’s death in middle school and how difficult high school was, I never imagined in a million years that I would have a college degree. In fact, a few weeks before graduating high school at my alternative school, I talked with a counselor and she asked me what my plans were and I told her I just wanted to get a job somewhere and earn a paycheck. She shook her head and asked about me going to college and I told her that I wasn’t sure about it at the moment, she shrugged her shoulders that was the end of the conversation, like at that moment we both gave up on me, college was out of the question.
I took a year off of school and worked at a Grocery store, bagging groceries. A year later, I started college and took a few classes but I wasn’t ready, I was in bad shape emotionally and physically, I had to get up several times to use the restroom, I felt like I couldn’t keep up with the other students, I felt stupid and I didn’t understand the lectures so, I quit after a few weeks, feeling like a total failure.
I gave up and found a minimum wage job ( one of many over the years) and worked for about three years, just trying to earn any money I could, my emotional and physical problems got significantly worse and it affected my job performance and I was treated poorly at every job I worked at. Finally, my physical difficulties became so bad, that I could no longer work and I forced to stay at home. During that time, I wanted to learn something so I taught myself Spanish by watching Spanish language television, listening to the radio, and reading my dad’s old books in Spanish.
Eventually, I decided that I should take a Spanish class at my local community class and I signed up, I also signed for an English writing course, I took a test and I was required to take a remedial English course to get me up to speed to a credited English course. I remember the Spanish class well; it was a beginner’s course and I had already learned most of the language concepts. On the very first day of class, I met my teacher, she was pretty with curly hair and she said she was Cuban. My family is Cuban and I excitedly told her my family was Cuban, she looked unimpressed as if I was trying to brown-nose her. And when she heard me speak Spanish, she told me that I didn’t belong there, I belonged in a more advanced class, I didn’t complain.
When I took the English course, they had us write simple compositions about our favorite vacation or just creative writing, I enjoyed it, I didn’t see myself as a writer or have a passion for it yet. One day the teacher told us we could write about any topic we liked but had to have a 3 to a 4-page minimum. Well, I decided to write about the counterculture of the 1960s, a topic I knew a lot about since I watched every documentary I could on the subject. A few days before the due date, I hadn’t written anything. I sat on my couch and started writing in a notebook every idea that came to my head, it was page after page. Eventually, I was able to mold that into a paper that spanned 10 pages, I just couldn’t stop writing. I turned it in, a few days later the professor talked me and said the dean was concerned because he thought I had plagiarized it but couldn’t prove it, I said sincerely that I didn’t, I just loved to write. The teacher said “I believe you” and handed me back my paper and like the other class, moved me to a credited college course immediately, it was one of the proudest moments of my life up to that point, I felt really smart. After those classes, I took another semester with two classes, I continued the English writing and Spanish courses, I did quite well, I was proud of myself. As I was taking this class, my family was planning to move out of state, so I have to stay with my Aunt for a few weeks to finish my courses.
I moved to another city and took another year off to just get settled, I found another low paying job that I hated but, in my heart, I wanted to be back in school. After a year, I signed for classes here at the local community classes, I now had a school counselor and a set number of classes I needed to take. I started to branch out, I took a communications class and some other class I can’t remember, I did well in those classes, considering I was also working a job that was stressing me out at the time. During my last year at this job, I missed a few semesters and just lost interest in school, I think my mental health was really deteriorating at this point. Sadly, my job was affecting my mental health so bad that I had a breakdown, I quit after 3 years and I was so distraught that I didn’t know what to do, I came home upset that I lost a job and I also liked a co-worker but she wasn’t interested, I was a mess. I was at one of the lowest points in my life and feeling hopeless. I was on Facebook and I saw a post from an old friend and they were now working with people with disabilities, I was impressed and I was also angry because I had disabilities and I was treated so poorly in the workplace, I wanted to do something to make a difference. I found a book with college programs, I was outside chain-smoking and I saw a program called “Human services technology developmental disabilities” And immediately I pointed at it and said to myself “I can do that” I didn’t even hesitate.
A few weeks later, I signed for a few classes and I entered the program. I met with the man who was the chair of the program and he became my school counselor, he was kind and really believed in me ( sadly he no longer is working for the school anymore) He was teaching a lot of the classes I was in and I was excited to be there, I excelled, I loved the curriculum and I got good grades without even reading much, I was just interested in the classes, I wrote papers and loved the discussions we had. I especially loved when I had assignments where I had to interview people in the disabilities field, I got so much out of that. I was just proud that I was doing so well. I was required to take a counseling course, which was the hardest class of them all, everyone feared this professor, she was tough. She would get upset at me if I wouldn’t follow the format of writing she expected. She would tell me that she didn’t care about the content, I didn’t follow her directions and I could do better. But once I was able to follow her format, she started to really like what I turned in and I was one of the few person’s that got A’s on her hardest papers; both required us to write over 10 pages, it was hard work but I love to write. I ended up getting an A in her class, I just jumped for joy.
After that semester, I had some financial troubles and I wasn’t working, my parents were retired and couldn’t help me much with paying for classes. Again, I had to stop classes and after a few months. I applied for a Pell grant, which basically gives low-income students an opportunity to finish school without worrying about finances, they paid my tuition and books, I even got money back at the end of the semester, it was a godsend. So, I was finally able to go back and get closer to getting my degree.
I took a few classes and began an internship program at a large agency in the area, it was a day support center where they had classes and art time for disabled adults. I was working at the time, so it was hard at first to get my hours. I really loved the clients and they loved me and I also got to know the support workers there, we got along well. I, however, did not like my supervisor, I could tell from the moment I walked in that she did not like me. I am not sure what it was about me but she had this disdain, she looked annoyed every time I would ask her a question, she never gave me direction, so I ended not doing much except helping teach the classes and interacting with the students, I felt frustrated because I didn’t know what to do unless someone took the time to show me what they needed. I finished my first round of internship and passed but I wasn’t happy and neither was she, I questioned whether or not I belonged in this field.
As time went on, I continued my classes, I slowly but surely got closer to my degree, but one thing was bothering me, I have a learning disability in math and I had been avoiding it until the very end, I knew it would be difficult. I finally had to take a remedial math course and it was this large computer room ( like you see in a library) with a station with 5 or 6 computers attached. The course was done in class and online, I was not allowed to use a calculator and I got so frustrated, I’d go home and just want to scream, I didn’t get it. After a week, I walked out, totally distraught, and thinking that I could never pass. The next semester, I tried again and passed the first remedial course. Oh, and the course was only for 4 weeks at a time, which didn’t give me the time I needed to learn and that only added to the frustration.
Before I took this next math course, I talked to someone at the disability department about getting accommodations, I qualified and was able to have a student write their notes for me, I was able to have more test time and to take it at the learning center instead of the class, I felt like this could help me pass. I was also feeling like I could pass this next math course because I heard that I could use a calculator, that was my main issue, simple arithmetic was holding me back and I could figure everything out if I just had a calculator. It turned out that I could use a calculator only if I passed the first test. When I attended my first class, I was so lost and I kept looking at the girl next to me, she was so much farther along than me and I felt so dumb, I’d asked the teacher assistant a question and she’d explain it and I still wouldn’t get it, I’d ask again and could tell she was annoyed. I had it, I was cursing underneath my breath, I angrily threw my stuff into my bag and walked out. I called my mom and told her that I couldn’t do this, I felt like an idiot and I was never going to pass, I felt so bad at that time and hopeless. I talked to my counselor after and she explained to me that the class required no calculators and there was nothing she could do about it.
At the time I had started volunteering at a Christian organization for adults with developmental disabilities and I was telling the woman in charge about the issues I was having and she offered to help, there was also a parent of one of the disabled adults and she would sit down with me and go over the math problems and explain it slowly so I could understand, she was kind. Also being there had given me the confidence I had lost while I was at the internship, volunteering I felt valued and loved and knew that I was capable of being in this field if I had the right guidance and people who cared.
I ended up having my mom come with me and explain to the counselor the difficulties I was having and how I was at a disadvantage because the trauma of losing my brother really affected my education in high school ( and that was the truth) I asked if I could waive the math course and she said that usually never happens unless it were extenuating circumstances. She mentioned that the school might offer the option of substituting a class but it would be in science, I was concerned since I was not good at science either and had dropped out of a few of those classes over the years. She said substitution was also rare and I shouldn’t get my hopes up. I walked out feeling somewhat disappointed because this was my last resort and I didn’t get a solid answer but we did request that the class be substituted, I was told that it would take some time for a decision to be made.
A few months passed and I heard nothing, I contacted the school several times and didn’t get an answer, I was ready to give up at this point. I finally got an email from my disability counselor and said that they were looking over the decision and I’d know soon, I knew in my heart that it would be denied, I’d never pass this course and get my degree, after all those years of hard work. I was thinking of trying to find another community college to finish up at and see if they could waive this math course, sadly, I was told that it was a state requirement. My last resort was to write a letter to the state board and keep going higher up until I got an answer. One day, I was checking my school email and I saw something from school with the subject “Class substitution ‘ I was nervous and opened the email, it stated that the substitution HAD been approved and they were offering astronomy. I literally screamed for joy and jumped out of my seat. I didn’t know a thing about astronomy but I knew that it was better than math and I had a chance of passing.
I quickly signed up and attended class in the fall. I was concerned though that I might not do well but the first class, I enjoyed the lecture and the teacher was really cool. It was both an in-class lecture and online work, that was ok with me. But the best part was yet to come, the professor mentioned that we did have in-class quizzes and exams. When the exams came, he surprised us and said that the exam was online with open notes, everyone was relieved. I ended up passing with flying colors, my heart soared because I knew that I was going to do good in this class. The next exam came and I studied so hard, I made flashcards, I got notes from the professor ( like in the math class), I just focused on that one class. And to my surprise, the next exam was online as well. Most classes never allow exams online so I was ecstatic. It turned out all the work online and I was able to eventually pass. The last day of class, I was on top of the world, I knew I passed and it was like a huge boulder had been lifted off my shoulders and I could finally rest easy, it was over, I had gotten my degree
After struggling on and off for 15 years and when I saw that I got an A, that was the proudest moment of my life. Me, someone who struggled so much in his life, someone who made to feel he was stupid and not good enough, finally got a college degree, I was a college graduate at last. I never thought this would happen. I never thought it would happen when I was an 18-year-old kid in that class with that counselor, I was just happy to be out of high school. I didn’t think it would happen when I was working low paying jobs, treated like garbage every day, and sick to my stomach. I didn’t think it would happen when I couldn’t solve a simple math problem ( that a child could solve) and I felt so stupid. But it did happen and it could happen to me, I could happen to anyone. If you want something in your life, you have to work hard with every fiber of your being for it, you have to picture it in your mind and never stop until you reach that goal. You can struggle but never ever give up, that is one thing I learned from this whole experience. I am a walking miracle and I hope somebody can read this and be inspired to achieve their dreams just like I did.