March 1, 2014

10 Lessons I Learned From Community College. ~ Elena Arroyo


After graduating from high school last May, I had it with school.

Thirteen years in the same school system had completely drained me. I needed to take some time off. But instead, I did what was expected of me and attended an elite, four-year university in the fall.

After a few months, I began to crumble.

I was utterly unsatisfied with the life I was living. I was not learning anything from my classes, my professors did not care about the material they were teaching or the students, and everyone just wanted to get drunk and hook up with one another. On top of everything, there wasn’t any healthy food to eat.

I was slowly self-destructing and felt completely stuck.

As soon as I returned home for winter break, I knew I could not go back. I spent my vacation convincing my mother to let me withdraw. She reluctantly agreed. A few days later, I drove the 400 miles back to college to finalize my withdrawal and move out of my dorm room. The drive back home was one of the happiest 10 hours of my life. I began to plan my next few months and how they would be filled with adventure.

As soon as I got home, my mother had come up with the idea that I would finish my academic school year at my local community college.

With my nose in the air, I refused the option of community college. I told my mother, “There is no way in hell I am going there. I’d rather die. Only people who don’t have options go there.” My mother laughed and said, “Well, that’s funny, because now you don’t have a choice either. You’re going.” And that was that. The next day, I registered to take four online classes because they allowed for a lot of flexibility.

To my surprise, the course material was academically and mentally challenging. The professors were in constant contact with each student and were available to at any point in the day. Each class required you to speak your ideas and express them in a way that made sense to you, whether that meant sharing a music clip, writing a journal entry, sharing a podcast, or sharing a poem. Each course was truly built around the idea that each student learns differently.

As time when on, I realized that I actually looked forward to class every day.

Here are 10 lessons that I learned from community college:

1. Each area of education should be valued equally to create a well-rounded individual.

Mathematical and scientific ability should be valued as highly as artistic ability.

2. There is a thin line between admiring and mimicking.

One should be able to see the success of others and apply little aspects of their ideas into their own lives, rather than trying to emulate the path a person took, step by step. Their happiness is not symmetrical to your own, even if you think it is. Try to be the best version of yourself rather than the best version of someone else.

3. It’s okay to take a different route.

Wandering allows you to stumble upon unexpected adventures, people, and opportunities. Explore your options and see where it they take you.

4. Success is not determined by the degree you receive or the school you attend.

A physics degree should not be more impressive than a history degree. Getting into Stanford should not be more impressive then getting into a local community college. If you are attending college at all, it is because you want to continue your education and that’s what’s important.

5. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses.

Do not compare yourself to each other just because society tends to do so. You are a rarity that cannot be matched.

6. Being creative is the rarest quality an adult can have.

Find things that allow your creativity to expand and develop in order for you to pursue your passion further.

7. Take it one step at a time.

People often ask themselves “What should I do with my life.” This question can be exhausting because instead of thinking about the journey, one ponders the final destination. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Instead, ask yourself “Who am I? What is my nature”. Start from there.

8. Remember that you have time.

Why do people think that they need to figure out their entire lives by age 30? People are now living to be nearly 100 years old. Why must the first 30 years of our lives determine the following 70? Feel free to soul search and not rush the process.

9. Get to know yourself by spending time alone.

With all the hustle and bustle of life, people tend to forget what brings them joy. Start painting. Meditate. Dance around the house. Teach yourself how to knit. Sing loud and proud. Finish a huge puzzle. Make your favorite childhood food dish. Write someone a letter.

10. Take an active role in your life. 

There is an old Italian joke about a beggar who prays to a saint, pleading, “Please, please, please, let me win the lottery.”After a few months, the saint appears before the beggar and says, “My son—please, please, please buy a ticket.” Participate more and plan less. You can go over the details a hundred times in your head, or you can just go for it and hope for the best.

There are many stereotypes and prejudices that are associated with community college, and I found that the ones I had weren’t true at all.

This humbled me and opened my eyes to another definition of intelligence that I did not know existed. It is rare to learn life lessons in an academic setting, and I consider myself lucky.

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Photos: elephant archives


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