Jumping In Over Your Head

This morning—I guess it was yesterday since it’s well after midnight as I’m writing this—I attended an award ceremony for nerds like me with high GPA’s. One of the speakers, Becky Daggett, caught my attention with a speech titled “Jumping in Over Your Head: Accepting Lifelong Challenges.” I perked up when she told how she had come to college from a family who didn’t have any college education and didn’t support her in any way. She told of moving into the residence halls all by herself, how she made new friends, and learning how to ask others for help. Her reminisces took me back to my own experience.

Going back to Day 1: Moving into my apartment on campus was quite an ordeal. The only way I accomplished it was by taking the hurdles one at a time. My first problem was finding campus, then once I had found it, how to park on it, and then, how to get back out of it. The streets were crowded and very confusing to me. I had no idea where my apartment building was as there were over a hundred buildings that looked all the same. Before I was allowed to do anything I had to get my shots. Where was the medical center? I finally found it tucked in behind the bookstore. I tried several doors before I found the right one.

While biking I discovered a building called the Student Union and went inside to have a look. I found a food court and a cafeteria and a card office, where I decided to get an ID card. I didn’t know it then, but that little card would buy my meals, let me in to my apartment each day, get my mail, do my laundry, and change my identity.

I had a long shopping list of ‘wants’ for the apartment so off to Target I went. My shopping cart was heaped completely full of stuff, there went another $600. Now I had a fully stocked kitchen with no food. I was hungry and sunburned from riding around in the bright sun all day but things were looking up.

My first advising session was a bust because I was clueless as to what classes I wanted to take. I was disappointed that I would have to take a year of foreign language, but signed up for Chinese because I thought it would be challenging. Then it was up to me to make a few choices out of hundreds of classes available. Since I didn’t have high school math or English I couldn’t start on my major classes without taking placement tests first. In hindsight I should have drilled my adviser as to what a placement test was and how to take one. That little bit of missing info set me back a few months.

Did I want to take dance classes or theater? Music or psychology? Biology or astronomy? Hiking or geology? Anthropology or religion? Swimming or criminal justice? I had no clue; biology sounded hard and the other classes didn’t sound like college classes. I finally settled on world geography and art appreciation, or maybe that’s what the adviser wrote down because our time was up. Anyway I now had a class schedule in hand and five more buildings and classrooms to locate before Monday morning. I found the bookstore and bought books. $400. Whew. Progress.

Monday morning rolled around and I found my first classroom. What I wasn’t expecting was that I would have to talk. I guess I thought I would magically learn without putting myself out. Introductions—just say your major, where you’re from, a few interesting facts about yourself, and what actor you would like to be; that’s all you have to say. Five minutes into college and I was done for; I knew my major and where I was from, but I didn’t have a single interesting fact about me and I knew the names of exactly zero movie stars. At the end of class I still couldn’t think of anything interesting about me. Wow, college is hard!

All the obstacles left as quickly as they came up. I slowly adapted to a life without income and learned to budget my expenses better and ignore wants. A few weeks worth of spare time spent during the winter applying for scholarships paid all of my tuition and some of my living expenses for my second year. I now have a wonderful job with a great boss.

I am grateful for friends and notice when other people appreciate me as their friend. The first day on campus was the loneliest day of my life; I had nobody to talk to, nobody that shared my situation, no parents who were involved, nobody. The second day was spend helping neighbors move in to their rooms, and by the end of the day, I was no longer friendless. Those people are still some of my best friends.

A large part of college is being part of a community with the common interest of education. It’s about making hundreds of new acquaintances each semester, meeting and working with people of all backgrounds from all over the world. My relatively small circle of friends and team members I associate with on a weekly basis includes people from France, Spain, India, Taiwan, Germany, China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Chile, and several states in the US.

One of my top priorities when leaving for college was to get a liberal education and meet people from all races and cultures. This is a liberal school and Flagstaff is a liberal town but there is a semi-conservative atmosphere on campus due to the fact that many students come from small rural towns in Arizona. (For those who don’t know the meaning of the word liberal, I use it in the sense of people and things progressive, tolerant, generous, free of dogma, etc. Licentious and unconstrained behaviors are not included in my definition of this word.)

Looking back gives me courage for the road ahead. In January I plan to start the application process for the MBA program. So, in four years, I’ll have done high school, a bachelors degree, and a masters degree if I decide to stay for the fourth year. A pretty tall order, especially for this homeboy who didn’t know if he’d last longer than a semester…

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