My college career began in remedial courses at a community college and ended four years later with a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University. This makes people flinch. Yet, we all have an unexpected flame inside of ourselves waiting to be lit. I always believed this to be true. Others did not, and justifiably so, my grades in high school were inconsistent. The marks on my report card followed the waves of my depression.
Private colleges with high tuition bills didn't appease me. State schools wouldn't accept me. I scanned the website of Raritan Valley Community College, remembering that a high achieving friend had just enrolled. That was enough to convince me to apply.
I received a startling text from my aunt after announcing my decision to attend Raritan Valley. “You're going to fail out and ruin your life", read the message. Feeling perplexed, my fingers quickly wrote back, “Students transfer from community colleges into top schools like Pepperdine and Syracuse all of the time! There's also an honors society. Some people even get full scholarships. I just need to get above a 3.5.”
"That's never going to happen,” read the message that flashed across the screen of my phone. I felt a sink of disappointment. How could I blame her? She knew the stereotypes of community college too well. Both my parents gave community college their best shot but never got a degree.
For me, it was going to be different. I had a fire waiting to be ignited. The eccentric and quick-witted professors, personable and encouraging nature of the college President, and wealth of opportunities to explore made Raritan Valley Community College a best-kept secret that I was fortunate enough to experience.
I was no longer ashamed of not having it all together in high school. I belonged in this land of lost toys. The students I interacted with varied in age. They shared identical challenges but told unfamiliar stories. Community college accepts more than just everyone’s application. Community college welcomes all students and supports them in their pursuit to improve their lives with education. There’s no other academic institution more accepting for a reason.
Community college led me to graduating from one of the most competitive universities in the world. Now, I share the stories of academically struggling children from low-income neighborhoods for the education nonprofit, Practice Make Perfect. We accept all types of scholars because we know they can achieve academic success through our 5-week summer education programs. To learn in an environment that promotes acceptance, whether a summer program or a local community college, can strengthen a weak flame into an invincible fire.
After hearing my story, I encourage you to learn more about President Obama’s community college proposal. Read the White House fact sheet.
By Casey Randazzo