Community College: A Hellscape and a Sanctuary, All at Once

This is only my second semester at the University of New Hampshire. That would be fine and dandy if I was 18 years old and fresh out of the public high school meat grinder, but unfortunately for me, that’s not the case. I graduated in 2016 and turned 22 last week. So the question arises, “Um... what the fuck are you doin here bud?”

My academic experience is much different from what most students at UNH probably share. I didn’t live in a dorm with a stranger when I was a freshman. I don’t have an embarrassing college romance story. I never joined a shitty fraternity. For the first three years after I graduated high school, I went to a community college.

Community college is a vast hellscape with dim lighting and a shitty vending machine. It’s also anything but a community. My senior year of high school, there was a sentence I constantly heard as loud as police sirens coming from the mouths of my teachers,guidance counselors and parents: “You’re really going to find your people once you start college.” Well, I’m fairly sure that in order to find your “people” at a school, there has to be fuckin people there. Community college is not a bustling metropolis of a campus the same way UNH is. Community college students come to campus with one objective: Getin, then get the fuck out. Commuters aren’t interested in making friends because trying to make friends inside a community college is like trying to have water cooler talk in a gulag. It’s not going to work, and you’re probably going to face some form of public execution for trying it.

I was a student at Nashua Community College for two reasons: I was poor, and I was offensively unprepared for a four-year school. So when I graduated high school, I gave myself a two-year buffer and enrolled at NCC with the hope that my goal of transferring to Emerson College was enough for me to buckle down and actually take school seriously.

So I did just that and poured myself into my courses, which at first, I genuinely enjoyed. My professors were accomplished academics and taught their classes with the passion and sincerity I bet you’d find in any respectable public or private college. I took a class that studied the historical context of film, a class detailing the history of the United States from post-WWII to the modern day and I took a screenwriting class that helped me get so many of the stories I had in my head onto paper. I finished my first year at NCC thriving, mostly because I was finally learning about topics that I always had addictive interest in.

When the second year came around, those vibrations of optimism and avid curiosity shifted and were replaced with an uncontrollable feeling of claustrophobia. The hallways of the campus began to shrink; the lights were low enough that I could’ve collided with some unknowing pedestrian on the other side of the hall. I was looking out the window much more than I used to. Faces I recognized in the previous year disappeared and it felt empty all over again. The only thing I held onto was the fact that I’d be transferring in the fall.

I was at the end of my fall semester in my second year at NCC when I met with myadvisor to register for my last semester of courses at the school. I haphazardly dropped myself into a chair from across her desk and tried my best to stay lucid. This institution had sucked every tangible feeling of hope and wonder out of me. My blood felt likemolasses and my skin was a dark shade of purple. Help me, help me get the fuck out of here.

“So it looks like your current graduation date is Spring 2019, that sound right?” I heard gunshots; the sounds of galloping horses ridden by bandits hoisting me up to take me hostage.

“Um, no. I’m supposed to graduate next semester. Spring 2018.”

“Yes, yes, you were originally supposed to. But you changed your major.”

“What do you mean? I’m in the Liberal Arts program.”

“Yes you are. But it looks like in the beginning of this semester, you focused it to Liberal Arts within Communications.”

“I was told that was the right thing to do, should I not have done that?”

“No, it’s good you did. However, it means you have another year of material to cover before you receive your degree.”

Here I was, sitting in this room, absolutely jonesing for the day I could never come back to this school which had made me physically ill just from attendance. The fact that I had to be here another year? This was the work of god damn el diablo.

During every class that year, a thought persisted in my head: “You should be a junior now. You should be at Emerson. You fucked up your plan, and you look like a joke.” These thoughts I had speak to a very serious stigma involving community college: It’s a place for burnouts and dumb kids. And if it was a place for burnouts and dumb kids, what did it mean about me if I was there a year longer than everyone else? I could see what my graduating class was doing. I had friends at Ivy leagues, studying abroad and some even getting ready to graduate early. My ex-girlfriend was a film student at fucking New York University, and I was still in the shame chamber of Nashua Community College and working at a supermarket when I wasn’t there.

This was a very devastating period in my life where I seriously felt like I had lost a lot of my potential and worth. I felt

as though the person I should have become was long gone, because he would’ve been studying journalism at Emerson College by now. And it took a very long time for me to understand how toxic this behavior was.

We are placed with such high expectations concerning our futures when we’re in high school. We’re conditioned to believe that if you go to a four-year school, it means you’re a hard worker and have intellectual potential. And if you go to a community college, you fucked up and you’ve got work to do. No one said it outright. But it’s laughably dishonest to pretend like that mentality doesn’t exist in the periphery. And I was a victim of it. I allowed myself to think my best life was over before it even started. Why? Because I didn’t go to a nice private school? Because I didn’t live in a shiny city or a village in Italy? Fuck that. If studying art with privileged rich kids in a dirty city was what I thought

I needed to become who I “needed” to be, then I’m glad I’m not that person. Because I’ve met a lot of those people, and they’re really fucking boring.

By the end of my three years at NCC, I was better prepared to take on my academic responsibilities and had a decent framework for what I wanted to do with my program. But I was still poor. So I forfeited my dream school, Emerson College, for UNH. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, but at this point I can say I made the right one. Nashua Community College may have been a vapid hellscape with dim lighting and walls painted with ugly earth tones. But that campus gave me a space for the intellectual and emotional growth that I needed to take on the rest of my life. It untethered me from the idea that I needed to adhere to a specific set of expectations, and if I didn’t, then I had lost something important. That’s absolutely not the case. Right now I’m a junior at the University of New Hampshire, I’m 22 years-old and I’m doing what I should have done from the beginning: I’m living for myself, prepared to destroy anything that gets in the way of that.

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