Education hasn’t come easy for me. I come from an environment where going to college after high school isn’t even discussed as a possibility. Neither of my parents hold a college degree, and it was never part of their plans for me to get one either. My father was a self-starter who worked very hard in his early years in order to provide for his family. When the economy was in better shape, he was able to start his own business in a great trade which served him well for many years. Although we were by no means rich, he never struggled to put food on the table or provide the means for hobbies and entertainment. My mother was able to be a stay-at-home mom, and I respect both my parents for the things they provided me at an early age.
From an early age, though, I had a love of learning and was constantly asking questions. In 4th grade, I was enrolled in a gifted program at my elementary school along with three other students. I was unaware of why I got this special class; I just enjoyed playing the math games and solving the riddles our tutor presented us. My education was a crossbreed of homeschooling, public schooling, partnership programs, and everything in between. I attended four public elementary schools, one Seattle-based homeschooling program, two Spokane-based homeschooling partnership ventures, one public middle school, one homeschool partnership middle school, two high schools, and one homeschool partnership high school. This wasn’t easy, but the constant moves helped me gain the ability to fit into new environments and adapt to change very quickly.
When I was finally in my first public high school, I began to learn that things are a little different than in the conservative homeschooling programs I was previously enrolled in. Potential was actually assessed, and students were encouraged to live up to that potential. I was enrolled in the honors math program and the advanced drama program, but I opted out of other options because I was told by some of my family that the only reason I needed high school was to get a degree. I was not encouraged to live up to my academic potential. In fact, I was ostracized for wanting to reach higher.
During my sophomore year, my older brother opted out of school in order to get a GED and work for my dad’s company. For him, that decision made sense. He and I viewed education differently, and he was able to immediately start training in a trade that he would work in for a long time. I was then pressured by some in my family to follow in his footsteps. He was praised for quitting school, while I was often ridiculed for my want to do more academically. This fear of ridicule led to me never reaching my potential in high school, never taking the SATs, not doing homework, and only getting by with my exceptional test scores. I finished high school with a D in physics, although I received over 100% on the final. I was wasting potential.
Fast forward nearly three years after graduation, and I was working as a server in a restaurant. Day-in and day-out, I had tables telling me that I should be doing something more. Co-workers often said I was the smartest person they know (although I disagree), and I finally realized that I actually do have potential. After talking to my wife and discussing my passions and interests, we agreed that I should go back to school to study Computer Science in hopes of starting a career as a Software Developer. This decision was terrifying, but also exhilarating.
While many people feel shame that they didn’t go to college, I felt shame telling those around me that I planned on attending that upcoming fall. My decision was met with worrisome remarks. Those I called my friends told me explicitly that they believed I would regret my decision. Instead of hearing words like, “I’m proud of you,” or “That’s great!” I was told to be careful and to make sure I’m not “Striving after the wind.” My wife was my rock and my pillar of support through all of this. I wasn’t sure that I was making a smart decision, because everyone around me seemed to think it was reckless and unwise, but my wife continued to believe in me and pushed me to achieve more.
My first year at SFCC was hard. I had no outside financial support, so I was working nearly full-time while also taking a full course load. I was working harder than I ever had, but I loved every minute of it. I kept my GPA high, made presidential honors, got inducted into an honor society, and finally received some praise for all my hard work. On paper I was a great student, but I still had no solid evidence that what I was doing made any difference.
After that first year of being so unsure, I checked my email to find two new messages. Thanks to my hard work and the unbelievable generosity of donors, I was selected for the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, as well as the Touch the Future Scholarship from the CCS Foundation! This was the first solid evidence that someone noticed my potential and actively tried to help me reach it. The promise that the Foundation has seen in me has invigorated me to work even harder, and has shown me that honest, hard work does not go unnoticed.
A year later, I was accepted as a student at Eastern Washington University where I will be getting my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. I was also accepted into their honors program, which comes with another scholarship. There is no way I would have been able to achieve this much if it weren’t for the generosity and kindness of the CCS Foundation and others, providing the financial relief that let me take time off of work to focus on my studies. I thank you, my wife thanks you, and the impact you had will remain with me for the rest of my life.
The difference a stranger can have in someone’s life is indescribable. People I have never met saw potential in me that those close to me couldn’t see, or chose to ignore. This acknowledgement changed the course of the rest of my life for the better. I plan on continuing to work my hardest so I can fulfill that potential and make them proud, as well as provide a better life for my family.