What I Learned at Community College

Two years ago I walked into orientation at my community college absolutely hating the fact that I had to be there.  I put on a fake smile and took my student ID picture while accepting the fact that I would be attending this school for 2 years.  I was bitter that I could not attend my dream school because I didn’t have enough money.  I wanted to be part of the group that was moving away and starting to figure out life on their own.

Today, having completed my 2 years of community college, I’m proud to say that isn’t the case.  I have grown in leaps and bounds as a person the last 2 years that I stayed home and went to school.  I learned a lot about who I am, who I want to be, and who the world wants me to be.  So many of these lessons could not have been learned if I hadn’t stayed where I was either.

For example, like I mentioned above, I hated the idea of community college.  In my first class, in my first semester of college, my professor opened with “I love community colleges.”  I laughed.  I thought she was stupid for even saying that they could be beneficial.  My idea of community college was that “it was for stupid people” which means I definitely shouldn’t have been there.  Little did I know I was the stupid person who needed a good bang on the head and an opening of my mind.

I’ve always been taught to “not judge a book by its cover” or to “not bash it before you try it”; yet, I never even had a fleeting thought to give the community college a chance. I wanted to believe I was better than everyone there and that they could all take lessons from me.  Knowing what I know now, I cringe writing that and can hear my friends laughing at how narcissistic I was.  I thought I was smarter than all of the professors, staff members, and students.  I needed to be knocked down a few steps and let go of my pride so that I could start learning.  I still catch myself having a big head and being narcissistic a lot, but I hope I keep myself in check a little more often than what I did two years ago.  If nothing else, I have friends and family members that will always keep me in check.  They have no time to be messing with an Aly who thinks she is better than them.

That realization was one of the biggest lessons I could have learned.  Swallowing my pride and realizing I’m not better than anyone was huge.  But I can keep going with lessons I learned.  While attending community college I learned to not sell myself short.  As previously stated I thought community college was for “stupid people”.  That means that the classes would be easier than a 4-year college and it would probably just be very reminiscent of high school.  I won’t deny the fact that it did seem easier than what my friends were doing in school, but I still learned a lot and had to work hard to get the grades I did.

Community college is still college and every time I said “I JUST go to community college” I would always be told to not sell myself short.  I still don’t have the 4-year college to compare my experience to, but I do believe that I was not handed any grades or had my hand held through it all to make it easier.  I worked my butt off to pay for everything and to get the grades I did.  I was on the dean’s list 3 of the 4 semesters I attended there, but that came from lots of all-nighters, breakdowns, and cursing myself for choosing the courses I did.  I didn’t succeed by just sitting around waiting for something to happen, I succeeded because I worked hard.

I didn’t have to go to college to learn that lesson either.  One of the best words of advice I have heard I heard in high school.  A speaker had come in to chapel and was speaking about his son’s first job.  He told his son, “it doesn’t matter how much they pay you.  Work for them like you are being paid a million dollars per hour.”  His son did and he was promoted to a manager within months.  I took that advice and have been able to move up positions in my own jobs and have done well in school.  I pay the community college thousands of dollars to attend there, but I still worked at my classes like I was getting paid a fortune to complete them and that mentality is something my professors saw, acknowledged, and appreciated.

Along with learning to not sell myself short and the art of working hard, I learned to go beyond my learning in school and challenge myself.  One of my absolute favorite professors is ambidextrous, can sign, and can write her name backwards.  Those are all things she learned for fun, so that she could challenge herself and grow as a person.  I like to learn about things like the anatomy of the brain, psychology theorists, and what makes the world work the way it does.  I will take a Friday night, sitting at my laptop and research these topics (I know!  I’m.  A.  Nerd.).  But those things are fun and they challenge me.

I like to challenge myself by writing constantly.  I write in journals often, I have ongoing writing projects where I am writing letters once a week, and I try to keep my blog up when I am not writing 3 papers a week for school.

I also challenge myself by learning how to write with my left hand.  I got uncomfortable and challenged myself to learn American Sign Language at school.  I learned how to sign a song and had to perform it in front of my class.  I took a music theory class and had to compose a piece of music.  Those were super challenging assignments that made me uncomfortable but I have grown as a person because of them.  Now, when I am at work and trying to help a deaf guest (which happens more often than I thought) I can communicate with them!  That would not have happened had I not been willing to challenge myself and get uncomfortable.

The ASL class also taught me to be more confident in myself.  Every week we had to go to the front of the class and sign either a few sentences, some dialogue, or a story.  I was always so worried about messing up, yet my professor always told me I did well.  It was proven through the grade I earned that I really did know more than I thought.  This has occurred in almost every single class I have taken in college.  I go into every one thinking “I can’t do this.  I’m not smart enough.”  But then I prove myself wrong by working hard and studying day in and day out.

Being confident and believing in my abilities to meet my goals was one of my biggest flaws before I started college.  I didn’t think I could get through 2 years of school debt free, even though that was the plan.  I didn’t think I was smart enough to make it on the dean’s list even once, yet I made it on the list 3 times.  Every semester I would set goals for myself and often I would surprise myself with the fact that I did accomplish all of my goals and then surpass them as well.  Because of this, my goals are getting bigger and crazier but that excites me.  Completing these smaller goals in community college inspired and encouraged me to keep going and to test my limits.

The final 3 things I learned came from multiple sources but occurred while I attended community college so I include them.  I learned to be myself.  Not to say I wasn’t myself in high school, but I have learned to embrace parts of me that I hated when I was in high school.  I learned to embrace my emotions; that it is okay to not be okay.  The more and more I talk to people and hear their stories, the more I realize we are all just broken souls trying to figure out life together.  That’s why it is important to figure out who your true friends are and keep them close.  You need a support system, whether it be family or friends, that will be there for you when you can’t seem to find the silver lining.  Find people who listen to you and challenge you to grow.

Finally, I learned I’m not as special as I once thought I was, but I am still a unique part of God’s creation.  I have a lot I want to say to this world, but the world has even more that it needs to tell me.  It’s crazy to think that if I hadn’t been practically forced to go to community college, I would have lived a completely alternate life to the one I am living today.  There are so many people I wouldn’t have met that I now call best friends, I would probably still be majoring in Elementary Education, and I probably wouldn’t have addressed my depression at all.

All of this to say, I love community colleges.  They, just like any other 4-year university, job, or difficult life circumstance, give you many opportunities to learn.  You just have to keep your eyes open so that you can see them.  And now that I’m done with community college and moving to a 4-year university, I understand that I still don’t know anything.  In fact, every time I learn something new I realize there are 6,000+ things I could still learn in that category.  That’s kind of the beauty of it though.  I never get to stop learning which means I always have the chance to grow.  Just like everyone else.

Until next time my friends,

Aly

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