Home Opinion Columns Being a non-traditional student doesn’t prevent a life of success

Being a non-traditional student doesn’t prevent a life of success

A photo from the 2020 summer. (Anthony Clark Jr./The Collegiate)

College was not a serious intention of mine when I was handed my diploma at my high school graduation in 2016. I had dreams in mind and knew for certain that I didn’t want to work a dead-end job for the rest of my life, but I also didn’t want to accumulate tens of thousands of dollars of debt for a degree that I didn’t care for while living with the thought of “what if.” 

Junior college was my realistic option, and should be for any student that is unsure of what they want to study. I was undecided about my future when I enrolled at Grand Rapids Community College for the 2016 fall semester, but I took a leap. I enrolled in four general education courses and finished in the 80th percentile. I did enroll for the following winter semester, but I dropped out of my courses within the first three weeks simply because I did not care for school and had no thought of furthering my education in the foreseeable future.

After a full gap year and some change, I made a second attempt at GRCC during the 2018 winter semester. I still had an undeclared major, and halfway through the semester I realized college wasn’t for me. This is when I told myself, “Unless you are truly certain of what you want to study and have the resources to make it to the finish line, do not waste your time or money again.” At the same time, however, things started to progressively get worse at home. 

My mother, sister, brother and myself dealt with housing displacement for the umpteenth time in our lives and bounced around from motel rooms to people’s basements. With years of a lack of outside resources to lean on, my mother began to succumb to alcoholism. This horrible disease would ultimately transform her into someone I hardly knew. It got to the point where I had to move out and live with a childhood friend. College didn’t cross my mind that entire year as I began to cope with the fact that I would be working a dead-end job I desperately wanted to avoid. 

It wasn’t until the early part of 2019 that I found motivation to take a third attempt at GRCC. This time, I felt certain about what my calling was. I officially declared my major in Multimedia Journalism, aced all my courses and found myself in an editing position for the student publication, The Collegiate – all of which told me that I was exactly where I needed to be in life.

Then it was 2020 – what a hell of a year. Through all the political, health and social madness, I never lost sight of my aspirations and goals for my life. Though I regrettably stepped away from my editing position due to family health reasons halfway through the year, I continued to excel in my courses, received multiple academic honors and was also invited to join two national honor societies. I powered through the chaotic year that 2020 was and started the 2021 winter semester at a good pace, while also being given a second opportunity to continue journalism as a staff writer for The Collegiate. It wasn’t until February of this year that my life would change completely. 

My mother received the news that she had developed cirrhosis of the liver and that any real chance of combating the illness would require a liver transplant, which still wasn’t a guarantee of survival. The thought of losing the one person I could constantly rely on seemed impossible throughout my life, yet came without notice. What hurt the most about this situation is that my mother just hit a month of sobriety and my family was so proud of her for making a huge step to rid her addiction.

Though my mother’s health continued to decline, I managed to finish the semester with the constant fear of the unknown lurking in my mind. I took the summer off to cope with the realization that it may be the last year my mother was in my life. Just eight days after her 47th birthday, my mother was transported to the hospital, never to come back home. 

Aug. 7, 2021 will forever live in my heart as the day I lost my best friend and the woman who molded me into who I am today. My life has been completely altered in so many unimaginable ways, but through these hardships I managed to keep my motivation of being a first-generation college graduate. As I fought to muster the words “I love you,” and “I’m sorry,” through tears, I squeezed my mother’s lifeless hand and swore to her that I would be exactly that.

Needless to say, it’s not worth comparing your path to others. I envied my peers in high school who had life figured out well before we entered our final year. At the time I wished I came from a nuclear household that provided me with what I perceived to be the necessary tools to build a life of success. My ignorance deceived me into believing I would amount to nothing due to my family background, but little did I know what perseverance could do for me.

I realize now that through all of the adversity and hardships in my life, I’m still here. I am still powering through my courses to keep the promise I made to my mother and myself. I was even granted the opportunity to be editor-in-chief for The Collegiate in my “farewell” semester at GRCC. And if I manage to maintain the educational path I am on, I’ll have my associate’s at the end of this semester and eventually receive my bachelor’s from Grand Valley State University by the end of 2023 with a possibility of graduating debt-free – goals I would have never considered if you were to ask me just a few years ago.

This piece was written in the hope that it would resonate with those who may be feeling anxious or frustrated about how long it will take them to graduate from GRCC, or any other institution for that matter. I want you to know that it is more than fine to go at a pace that is reasonable and viable for you. Accomplishing your goals and aspirations is what should matter most, not the time it takes you to reach them.



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