For the past 16 years, I have been a student. In high school, every action I took revolved around that identity from the roles I took on to the sports I played— student leader, student-athlete, student… It’s who I was.
In college, my actions revolved around building beyond that identity. I look back at four years of formal education to understand both the privileged of learning both from the challenges from my institution and the lessons those around me had to teach along the way. Learning as a student inside the classroom is worth little if not paired with the lessons learned from the friendships, mentors, clubs, employment, leadership, and involvement that happens outside of it.
This week, I received confirmation that my diploma has been awarded and I am, in fact, no longer a student. As I wait for that piece of paper in the mail, I figured what better way to recognize that than to share with you a few things that I take with me from both inside and outside the classroom as I move into my new role as part of the working world.
Speak up for yourself.
I was not accepted to Cal Poly the way everyone else was— I got denied in March 2016 when many were accepted. It was only when I fought for myself and chose to appeal that denial, as an independent and intelligent Black woman, that I was accepted off of an appeal to Cal Poly’s class of 2020 just weeks after my Howard University summer orientation. Though my path has been very different than it would have been, and I have had to speak up for myself at Cal Poly’s Primarily White Institution countless times since that day, I do not regret my decision. I wouldn’t be who I am or care about the issues that I do without the last four years in SLO. It all started with me raising my voice.
Know when to ask for or accept help.
After the blackface incident in my sophomore year at Cal Poly, the campus became very polarized and with such a small black community on campus, many of us were uncomfortable being alone. In one instance, I had to walk to my car off campus after a Black Student Union (BSU) meeting and two of the football players offered to walk with me—I hesitated but said yes. I’m glad I did, as harassment stories of Black students like this one were coming out around the same time from friends and other BSU members and that was one of the first nights I walked on campus without constantly looking over my shoulder or tightly holding my pepper spray. When it comes to both social and academic situations, know that it’s okay and sometimes much better to ask for help than to struggle through a harder or potentially dangerous situation on your own.
Even if you change them along the way, make plans, and follow them. My plan going into college was to go to medical school; about five weeks in, I had a feeling that was not going to happen, so I began drafting a new one. Sophomore year, I was on a new major track with English and but I didn’t have much of a social plan, so I made one for that area of my life too. So much of what I did throughout college, between clubs and leadership positions or downtown shenanigans and writing on the side stemmed off of deciding what I wanted and writing it into my life. Plan for the things you want and make them happen, otherwise, they won’t. That being said, remember this: don’t scrap an old plan before you have a new one set.
Change your expectations.
I walked into college knowing exactly what I wanted out of it all—then I got there, and the idea completely changed by the end of day one. Whether you walk onto campus deciding to be yourself or you’re still figuring out who that is, adjust your expectations of what college is supposed to look like and let the pieces fall where they may. Some things will not go well: not all exams will be aced, and classes may get retaken. Friend groups will change, and your perspective of the world will adjust. One way or another, every move you make pushes you towards learning something you didn’t know before—if it doesn’t, choose another direction and keep going. Just don’t stop.
Meet new people, find a mentor, get a job, submit your work, take a leadership position, volunteer your time, apply for that internship… Figure out what you’re afraid of and where your boundaries are, then push them. In my appeal letter to Cal Poly, I challenged their judgment on whether or not I was good enough for this school. In doing so, I challenged myself that if I got in, I would spend every day proving that I was worth taking a chance on as more than just another diversity number to check off. You learn nothing and go nowhere by staying stagnant in this life.
I’ve only listed 5 things here, but I could say so much more. In fact, I already have. Every single week of my college journey—with the exception of two weeks—are cataloged on this site with a blog post every Friday throughout the past four years and that is here for you and the rest of the world to see. Throughout this post, I have linked a few that I felt were key to what came up within what I learned, but ultimately, there is an archive and tag section on my site if you’re looking to dig a little bit deeper.
As of today, I am no longer a student inside the classroom and unless I decide to go back for my Masters at some point, I have a lot to learn from my new job that starts Monday and the world around me. But as the class of 2020, the beginning and the iconic end of my college experience taught me more than I can put into words, and today, I hope I was able to share at least a little bit of that with all of you.
I’ll see you next week.