I believe that junior colleges are a second chance for underserved Americans to reach their academic potential. A few years ago, working as an Ironworker on an underground parking structure on the University of California in Los Angeles campus, I crawled out of the subterranean dirt pit, that I was working in, and climbed up the bruin stairs and entered Powell library. I was in awe of the bold, majestic and cathedral like ambience of the library. Covered in dirt and sweat from my labor, I stood there in the library observing and envying the scholars as they studied and asked myself what makes them smarter than me. I wondered what if, what if, I were allowed to sit in this luxurious hall, what would I be capable of?
In truth, I had no idea if I had what it took to learn. After all, I graduated at the bottom of my class in high school, not because I struggled with the academic rigor, but because I didn’t care, I didn’t have proper guidance, and my life environment was challenging. Fourteen years past college age, with a wife and four small children I enrolled in night school at West Los Angeles Junior College. My Instructors were encouraging, they approved of me academically and they believed in me personally. Two years passed and against the advice of close friends, who just could not see past the “married with children,” Ironworker persona, I enrolled at UCLA. Alas, I sat in my library, as a Bruin, soaking up its power. At first, I sat in apprehension; I was insecure, thinking people would see me sitting there in the air-conditioned hall reading, knowing I grew up with parents who had never even graduated from high school. They’d sense I was raised on welfare. They’d know I ate Ronald Reagan’s surplus cheese. My age and thick hands would be a dead give away that I should be placing rod-iron on hot deck somewhere. I felt that I was intruding upon the privileged class.
Fears aside, I graduated from UCLA with the highest of honors and a Masters degree in education. I now teach in the inner-city. Teaching students that I relate to–students that don’t care, with little guidance, and to those whose life environments are challenging. After high school few of them will attend a four-year college. Still, many of these students, somewhere down life’s highway, will need a second chance to turn their lives around. I believe community colleges are one of America’s finest resources and can provide citizens, when they are ready, with the same opportunities extended to me. Junior college can erase their high school failures by healing their bruised and battered student self-esteems. My high school transcripts would not have gotten me onto a bus let alone into a learning institution—but my community college transcripts opened the doors to UCLA and to the world.
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