“College is the place for self-discovery.” I heard this line way too many times at college workshops or amid casual conversations with older friends. While I considered this popular maxim to have some truth, I was so sure I would not “discover” myself at a measly community college.
The reasons for my certainty were fair enough. After all, I wasn’t going into four years of complete freedom where I could turn the tables and suddenly become a Gabriella Montez, whose life is seriously so on point. Your typical gal just doesn’t score Stanford, the perfect boyfriend and to top that off, an incredible singing voice, all at once. Regardless, I was bound for a year or so of quietly attending classes and minding my own business. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t ashamed or bitter at having to attend a community college, but I was still a bit frustrated that I wouldn’t be able to tune in on the “freshman experience.”
But a mere five weeks into college changed all that. I am grateful beyond belief I chose to attend this school. There is so much more to a community college than what outsiders know. Because nothing is really ever handed to you here, you have to go out of your way to play the game, which unquestionably leads to discovering your true self.
To me, college is like New York City. So many distinct, colorful entities merge to create a wonderful society of sorts. I remember visiting NYC when I was in grade school — the glowing city lights and the dingy subway tunnels, the chic fur-clad lady and the unkempt homeless man. Years after in sunny SoCal, they’re still so vivid on my mind. When I stepped onto my campus, these images popped into my head and I had a déjà vu moment. There were things that appealed to me and things that didn’t, and only by coming into contact with a lot of different materials are you able to recognize what you do and do not like. And because community colleges are home to such a wide variety of people — single mothers, elderly folk and ex-convicts just to name a few — they’re the perfect places for soul-searching and a personal journey.
It’s even more so because I take the public transit to commute to school. Funny, but you unintentionally do a lot of observing on bus rides. Maybe it’s just me, but when I spot the occasional blind woman with a walking cane, I imagine what her world is like. When I say hello to my favorite bus driver, I silently wonder about his childhood, his kids and his life beyond the bus doors. When I see the suntanned, middle-aged man carrying animal-shaped helium balloons and enormous swirls of cotton candy to sell, I quietly applaud him for struggling to provide for his family.
As I’m writing this article aboard the Metro with my mother and two sisters traveling to downtown Los Angeles, I’m sensing it once more. College opened my senses to a kaleidoscope of novel experiences and images I probably never would’ve encountered elsewhere. And in the vibrant hub, I've finally found myself.
Lead Image Credit: John Westrock