Junior colleges deserve more notice from the community

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am a product of community college. 

am a product of community college. 

Community college is where I learned to write — in the welcoming newsroom of Southwestern College, alongside The Californian’s previous editor, Albert Fulcher, I first learned how to create a lede, place a comma, build a story and interview someone who did not feel like talking. From that same newsroom, filled with people who missed the train going straight to university, have come writers and photographers for the Union Tribune, professors, public servants, entrepreneurs. Community college gave us a second chance.

East County is privileged to have not just one, but two such colleges: Grossmont and Cuyamaca. 

Grossmont is well-known for its baseball program which, under the leadership of head coach Randy Abshier, has sent players on to universities and MLB teams alike. Cuyamaca has a stellar cross country program, consistently turning out scores champion athletes.

Community college athletes gain experience critical to human development in an arena very few have access to: college-level sports.

I was one such athlete. I ran cross country and track and field for SWC — so I know first hand how tough Cuyamaca’s Coyotes are when they are running for a prize. The only reason I joined cross country instead of say, soccer, was because I was told there were no tryouts. Having no previous experience in athletics of any kind – I was a speech and debate nerd in high school – a team that would accept anyone who showed up was understandably appealing.

My coach and I both knew I would not make the cut for a university team so there was no point in running for scholarships, but he encouraged me to continue pushing myself anyway. Despite injuries, discouraging meets and failed goals, Coach never let me back down. With a laugh and a understanding nod, and sometimes a roll of his twinkling eyes, he would tell me to stick with it. 

So I did. And I discovered at the end of my time in community college sports that I had become a different person. I was stronger mentally, tougher physically. I had renewed faith in the power of will and the beauty of hope and purpose. 

Most universities do not offer that kind of experience. The higher the level of competition, the harder it is to make the team — age limits, experience, raw skill all become a factor.

Had it not been for community college, I would never have had the opportunity to develop as a person the way I did as a college athlete. 

But, of course, our local colleges do so much more than provide courts and fields to play on. They house critical programs for success in the workforce: trade skills like graphic design and electrical engineering. I received my first associates degree in paralegal studies. A friend of mine is working on her nursing certificate at Grossmont College, studying in daylight and waiting tables at night. 

We are not part of the Silver Spoon generation. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to afford the time and money that a university education requires, and many of our youth do not understand – and how could they – the magnitude of the financial commitment that university is. 

Trade skills have been trampled on. Somehow, a stigma was placed on the blue-collar worker and it needs to be removed. Not only are technical skill jobs well-paying, but they are the backbone of a community, and the doorway into that world is often found on community college campuses. 

Lastly, but certainly not least, community colleges attract the artists in our neighborhoods. Perhaps it is the infrastructure for theater, art and music that is so appealing, or maybe it is simply the affordability of junior college that makes ‘starving artists’ clamber towards the showrooms and performance halls of campuses like Grossmont’s and Cuyamaca’s. 

I always marvel at how we take art for granted, and view those who practice it as fools for choosing a career with such little financial stability. It is only in the last few centuries, as civilization stabilizes and peace and prosperity abound, that art has been able to truly flourish. What a privileged time we live in.

If you have not yet gone to a production of your local community college’s theater troupe, I would highly recommend you look up their calendar and buy yourself a ticket. Maybe even begin with Grossmont’s production of “The Heir Apparent” which runs Mar. 15-24.

I was embarrassed to be a community college student for a long time. Most of my friends went straight to four-year colleges and universities. Most of them are still paying off student loans. 

Looking back, I would not change a day of my time at SWC. I was built from scratch there, made to see myself and the people in my neighborhoods in a different way. 

I wish all high school students could be talked into taking a year or two to study at the JC level before moving on to pursue whatever they have their minds set on. Maybe their minds will change at community college. Maybe they will change. I know I did.

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