In early 2010, I made the decision to return to school and pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. I had made numerous attempts to kickstart my pursuit of a formal higher education in prior years, but my personal ambition to become a working-class musician and the trials and tribulations of life kept school out of reach. In my first push to make school a priority, I enrolled in 21 units at my community college while working nearly full time. This resulted in a successful bout with school (along with some damaged sleeping patterns), but I was still unable to find a path that would lead me to a bachelor’s degree and beyond.
In the semesters that followed, I took online classes like Psychology and English to gradually increase my unit-count, but I began to question the returns on these personal investments because it seemed that the only thing they would useful for was earning some random degree. It was around this time when I realized that I should be studying Mathematics and the sciences, which in conventional academic settings are much more demanding and rigorous than other subjects. Also, if I was to go to all the trouble of earning a degree, I reckoned that I should focus my studies in areas that will benefit me on a personal level. To put it another way, my schooling must reinforce and strengthen who I am while refining how I invest my time. It is very natural to decide to go to school for a piece of paper, and many people do this every day, but I was finding with each completed class that I am incapable of taking this approach. My impetus had too much of the “this is what you should be doing because everybody says so” going on which, unsurprisingly, had a lot to do with why I couldn’t recognize much worth through my efforts.
After considering all of these things I realized that, if I was to do this correctly, I would have to pick an appropriate major and, in turn, my education could not be something that I try to fit in conveniently on the side. The only way that I would really be able to earn a degree that would also suit who I am is if I put everything else on hold and committed to my studies full time, going the full distance in the process. This was a difficult decision to make because I had very much missed out on the natural transition that many people make into college right after high school.
One of the reasons I was able to justify this radical change in my life had to do with the remorse I feel for my previous school experiences. High school was a disastrous time for me academically: there were many missed opportunities that, had I been more actively involved in my education, would have had a positive effect on my life. It was a strange time for me and I didn’t really know what was going on. I remember wanting to be engaged and to somehow make school a priority, but didn’t really have the means to accomplish this. Every year I would look back at the classes I had just finished and shake my head in frustration and confusion at what had happened. I was also disappointed, but not in myself so much as in how I could become so withdrawn from something that I knew to be so important.
So I used my time in community college to not only build toward transferring to a highly respected university and pursue a degree in a field that is genuinely important to me, but also to repair the broken academic experiences I had from a stretch of time in my life that I really wish would have been better. If it were not for this second, less obvious opportunity then I do not believe that I would have ever returned to school, which is a strange thing to think about and has a bit of the paradoxical going on.