I started college late. If you want to know the truth, I was 23 when I finally attempted my formal education and I needed tons of encouragement to even put a foot into that admissions office. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go to college, but over time, I had learned that college wasn’t for me. I learned that college wasn’t for me when I gushed excitedly in middle school that I wanted to be an artist and go to Kendall, an art school near my hometown in West Michigan. My teacher’s response was to remind me about how little my parents made and how expensive this school was. ”Don’t get your hopes up.” She made a point of letting me know that it was beyond my reach. So many more of these messages came during middle school and high school.
High school counselors never failed to mentioned my parents’ income every time I brought up college and not once did they answer my questions about the college admissions process or give me any helpful tools or advice. They bypassed the conversation entirely and saw me as a “dreamer”.
When I looked to my family for support, they were unable to fill in those gaps. My parents just didn’t know enough about the college experience and when I talked about living on campus or moving away, I was bombarded with their fears about everything that could go wrong. I can’t really blame them…this was all new to us, but all these experiences served as a deterrent that prevented me from seeing college as a place that I could one day envision myself a part of.
It’s interesting how I finally did end up in college and who I can thank for getting me there…my husband. My husband grew up in Laredo, TX…a place where the locals often dream, but may never make their dreams reality. This small border town in south Texas has had it’s share of poverty and disenfranchisement. In poor schools, teachers didn’t have many expectations for their students. They also didn’t have the tools to diagnose or accommodate my husband’s learning disability. He was continually discouraged in education and underwent severe abuse through the education system, but even though he couldn’t see college as an option for himself, he took special care in encouraging me and holding my hand through all of the applications, counselor appointments and financial aid worries. He dismissed any naysayers who told me I couldn’t have my dream and was a constant source of those necessary and hard to find positive affirmations that allowed me to believe that I belonged in college.
The closer that I got to starting my first semester, the more I realized that the process wasn’t exclusive, it wasn’t that difficult and the worries of naysayers were completely misguided. I started out at a community college and did my first two years of general courses there. I was surprised to discover that the classes weren’t much different from high school, the work wasn’t as amazingly challenging as some would like to believe and my admission were paid for by grants in full with money to spare. So the “truth” that so many had told me about college…that it was an exclusive path for those of privilege and unattainable for someone from a poor family like mine…were completely false. Attending college is something that we can all do…that we all MUST do. It’s not a dream…it’s a reality.
I went on to a four year university, fully prepared by my community college experience and even a little let down in my expectations, since many professors at community had held me to the highest standards. Knowing that I could take on a four year university, after growing up thinking that college wasn’t for me, was such an inspiration for both me and my husband. Watching me accomplish my dreams gave him the strength to overcome his own fears and return to school. I couldn’t be prouder and I thank him everyday for all the support he showed when I had no one else to rely on.
I want you all to know…everyone who reads this post…that you can make it in college, that you have what it takes and that nothing, not even finances, can halt you if it’s what you want for yourself.
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© 2011, Chantilly Patiño. All rights reserved.