Taking the right path: What I’ve learned as a first-year community college student

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By Gianluca Russo
Campus News

As the temperatures begin to rise and summer vacation readily approaches, I took some time to reflect upon what has been a very interesting first year at Schenectady County Community College. Though I wouldn’t classify the past eight months of my life as the “ideal college experience,” my time thus far at community college has most definitely affected me as a person and has played a strong aspect in my future in the professional world.

The topic of college was not prevalent during my high school years. I focused almost all my time and energy on the world of musical theatre, honing my skills and becoming the best performer that I could be. My mind instantly became clouded by the dreams of a life on the stage, and I disregarded factors that could, and eventually did, prevent me from performing professionally. I spent hours each night researching the world of Broadway, staying up to date with the latest news, and watching videos of my favorite performers, imitating their every move in hopes of one day becoming just as marvelous and inspiring as them. I knew that one day, no matter what, I needed to somehow be a part of this community of professionals that inspired me and helped me through the darkest times of my life.

gianlucaBut time flew by, and soon enough, senior year was knocking on my door. As meeting with guidance counselors and long conversations with my family seemed to become part of my daily routine, the knocking only became more frequent. Reality set in as I came to the realization that being a performer would not be possible, and I found myself lost in a sea of people who seemed to already be on a path to success. Each day was another struggle as I watched my classmates get accepted into their, and my, dream schools, including New York University, Columbia University, and, the one I loved most of all, Pace University. The knocking got louder and louder as I was asked each day about which college I would attend and which major I would pursue. Though I found myself in the top percentage of my graduating class, I didn’t apply to any schools; having lost my dream of Broadway, I had no idea what career I wished to pursue, and thus found it useless to pay thousands of dollars for an undecided mind.

Community college quickly became my only option, and, reluctantly, I applied to SCCC. I was embarrassed to tell people of my school of choice and that I would be a paralegal major, something that, though I thought I could potentially enjoy, I knew would not bring me happiness.

My first week of college was, to put it simply, painful and torturous. For someone who couldn’t go a moment without speaking in high school, often getting me in trouble, I found the only word I muttered each day to be “here,” accompanied by a small, effortless hand raise. Though I won’t bore you with the details of my self-reevaluation during those first few weeks of school, I knew that unless I did something fast, my next two years here would be quite miserable.

And, without even noticing it, community college provided me with the best thing I could have asked for at that time: an amazing professor. She not only pushed me to new limits, but made every class relevant to the lives of each student in her courses. I began to realize why community college professors are so special; they understand the type of people who come to these institutions. They understand that the students here have a specific goal in mind, and though their lives may not be necessarily easy, they are here to accomplish their goal and to show everyone that no matter what, they can be successful. This professor showed me the person I could become with a whole lot of hard work, and I finally started to enjoy my days at SCCC.

At a time when I felt lost and confused about who I was and what was to become of me, I met a Russian woman who had begun school around the same time as I. I regretfully cannot remember her name, but her story has left a strong imprint on my life to this day. She told me that after having kids and being a stay at home mom for years, she was finally coming back to school and fulfilling her dreams. I saw her face light up as she told me about her immigration to this country and how she couldn’t wait to graduate and become the person she always wanted to be. And as simple as her story may sound, I had never felt so inspired.

Community colleges are a destination for many looking to fulfill their dreams and live a life they have always imagined for themselves. A majority of those who attend four year institutions seem to care more about living the college life and having a good time, whereas community college attendees come in with a goal and set intention, and will stop at nothing to reach that goal and succeed in their field. As I began interviewing students for my college newspaper, learning more about their journeys in life thus far, I became more and more inspired. If all these people, some who had lived incredibly hard lives or who were coming back to school after years could do it, why couldn’t I fulfill my dreams, too?

I’ll never forget the day I made a dedication to myself to get my life on track and attain my goal of happiness. The day was November 8, 2015, and I was on a car ride back from Chicago, Illinois. I promised myself that I would work harder than ever before to reach my goals and finally be a part of the Broadway community. I began writing a theatre based blog where I interviewed some of my favorite performers and reviewed different productions, ranging from Broadway to national tours to regional and community theatre productions. I then began writing for my college newspaper as well as Campus News, and soon enough, I was hooked. I was honored to start working as a theatre critic for BroadwayWorld.com, the largest theatre site on the web, as well as working as a writer for TheatreNerds under Broadway producer Ben Bailey. Today, I am incredibly grateful to be working on two musicals aiming for Broadway in the upcoming years.

It most certainly wasn’t easy. I have barely slept in months, and there is almost never a time when I can relax without worrying about an assignment that is due or a deadline soon approaching. But I know, and I have seen, that everything I have been doing over the past few months is worth it. Community college has showed me the true value of hard work, and that fulfilling and chasing your dreams is ALWAYS possible. I lost sight of that when I first came to SCCC, but I could not be more thankful to each and every one of those people who reminded me of what I could accomplish if I set my mind to it, and I owe that all to community college.

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