My road to being a college graduate is certainly not the most traditional, nor did I take the easiest route. However, I am proud of my accomplishments because in the end, it was the best journey of my life.
Growing up, I did not have anyone in my extended family who went to college and few of my relatives finished high school. I loved going to school, even at the risk of being the “nerd.” When I graduated from high school in the top ten percent of my class, I realized I had potential and decided I would earn my degree regardless of the obstacles.
I moved out on my own and started working in a deli to save money for college. At first, after reading Dian Fossey’s Gorillas in the Mist, I wanted to be an anthropologist. I received a Pell grant and pushed through my first quarter at Tacoma Community College. I was expanding my knowledge and understanding of the world and myself. I had known I was gay at an early age, but never really had the courage or support to deal with it. So, when the opportunity arose, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue the development of my identity.
I spent several years in California and then Arizona, working in a record store, and then a book store, and taking a few classes in local community colleges. My career flourished: I traveled, opening new stores and training people in the office manager role. I came back to Washington for a friend’s wedding and learned my company was opening a new store in Puyallup which gave me pause. I realized that August in Washington State was far nicer than August in Arizona. So in August 2000 I moved home and started with the company store in Puyallup.
I reconnected with a dear friend from high school who asked me to go with her to UW Tacoma to turn in some paperwork. “UW Tacoma?” I thought. I was curious and bemused. It was not until I was on the campus that I realized downtown Tacoma was not the scene that I left in 1990. To make a long story short, first I got a job on campus, then I enrolled. I took one class a quarter and chiseled away at my degree while working full-time. I finally completed my undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences with a concentration in Self & Society. When I walked across the Tacoma Dome stage in summer of 2010 the emotion and joy were uncontrollable. I completed my M.Ed. in summer of 2014 at UW Tacoma and am still reveling in the joy of my accomplishments.
If I could share one piece of advice from a mentor of mine, if you are thinking of going to college, or returning to college, believe in yourself first! Accept yourself with all your faults, problems and limitations, but more importantly, accept yourself for all your gifts, strengths and ability to overcome.