Sharon Wu } The Poly Post

The path to college differs for some

By Janean Sorrell, Dec. 13, 2022

I remember coming home on my last day of high school. I was ecstatic when I met my mother in the living room. However, that was when she told me that I could not go to college — we did not have the money.

I was heartbroken but not surprised. I had no idea how we would manage to pay for if we could barely keep groceries in the fridge. But hearing it said out loud crushed my soul.

My mom told me I would have to get a job and move out as soon as possible. So, that’s what I did, and I went through a three-month training program at the local Kroeger store and became a pharmacy technician.

At first it wasn’t bad. Most of my friends were going to school and struggling financially, but I was working full time. I had money to spend, and in my free time I could do whatever I wanted.  As the years passed, my friends graduated college and started their professional careers.

Suddenly, I became jealous.

Sharon Wu | The Poly Post

I left Kroeger and started working in an ambulatory care setting for the largest employer in Oregon. I moved up the ranks from a refill technician, to trainer, to shift lead and then to managing the daily operations of the department.

Sure, I made good money for someone without a college degree. I had amazing benefits, health, 401K, IRA and retirement. But I still wanted more. I became depressed. I started to hate my job. I was unfulfilled. Then one day, I read something from Margaret Shepherd that resonated with me: “Sometimes your only available mode of transportation, is a leap of faith.”

Going to college was always a dream of mine. I knew I was capable of so much more, but how could I afford it? I had rent, a car payment, insurance, utilities and credit card bills. I was making enough just to cover my responsibilities. There was no way I could cut my hours down at work so I could go to school.

Was this dream impossible for me to reach?

After talking to my future husband, I learned that if I really wanted to go back to school I could. With loans and grants, education was possible for someone like me.

I quit my job, cashed out my retirement, packed up my bags and moved to California. I spent months researching different programs and schools in the area. I knew I wanted to help people. With the Trump administration approving a pipeline through native lands and the border separation policy, I thought law would be a good choice

I enrolled at Los Angeles City College and entered the paralegal program. I enjoyed the GE’s, but the law-based classes were so mundane, I could barely stay awake in class. I kept trying to like my classes, but it wasn’t for me.

That’s when my public speaking professor took me aside one day and asked me about my future. I told her I was doing law but struggling. She suggested I switch to communications. She told me I was a good public speaker and told me about the versatility of a communication degree.

I switched to communications and loved it. I was happy. Community college has all sorts of people from different backgrounds including young and old. I was comfortable there, and I never felt singled out because I was older. We were all there to focus on ourselves, trying to better our futures no matter what we all had been through.

My mass communications professor always told me that I would be an excellent reporter. He kept nudging me in that direction, suggesting when the time comes to transfer, I should look into journalism.

So, without ever having taken a journalism course, I decided I was going to be a journalist. I could still help people through writing and reporting. I thought if my professor saw something in me, maybe I could believe in myself.

Cal Poly Pomona was never on my radar. Some of my co-workers at the time recently graduated from CPP and told me how competitive it was. When the time came for me to transfer to a four-year university, the CSU gave me four free application waivers. I applied to three different schools that I thought would be easier to get into, leaving me with one waiver left, so I thought, “Why not roll the dice?”

I was over the moon when I got accepted to all four of the schools I applied to. I asked my mass communications professor which program he thought was best, and he suggested CPP because of the multimedia option and the learn-by-doing approach.

So, in 2020, I transferred to CPP, and this week I will officially graduate. I’ve come a long way, and I couldn’t have done it without the support from my professors, classmates and everyone else I met along with way.

Going back to school in your 30s is not easy. You have to give up a lot: your time, money and energy. I’ve watched my friends buy houses, start families and go on amazing vacations, and here I am in school. I feel like I had a late start to life, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

I did it. I am a proud first-gen college student.

Feature image by Sharon Wu

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