UNITED STATES—I finished my first semester of college, where I think I came home only 3 maybe 4 times the entire semester. Summer was coming and I could be more ready to come home. I could have taken summer classes, which I consider because I could have used grant money available to me, but I decided not to. Reflecting back, I probably should have because I was indeed behind a semester. I came home and I worked my summer job, one that I had since high school. I thought it would be wise to save a bit of money for the fall semester because I didn’t have an idea what my tuition would be like.

I did get good news and bad news. My younger sister had just got accepted to the same university as me. I was not immediately thrilled because I thought it was be a stressor for me, however, it turned out to be the best thing that happened because it bonded us more than ever before and she’s like my best friend today. I trust her fully and I’m sure she thinks the same of me.  I did travel back to the university when she had her orientation to help her out with that, but I mainly worked during the summer, so when the fall semester came I was prepared. I was taking 16 credits this semester (4 classes, 4 credits apiece).

About the first or second week in August, which I hate because the university can give financial aid results to students a bit earlier for them to prepare for what may be needed for tuition. The room and board doesn’t always change as much, but the cost of tuition at my university went up every single year I was there except for 1 year where there was a freeze on all public universities at the college. With that said, I had a ton of money to pay for tuition. This was the first time I had to take out a student loan. This was something I didn’t want to do, but I had no choice and I would still need to pay out of pocket expenses for tuition and books. The books were brutal because I was looking at almost $600 for the semester, and I purchased all my books new because that’s all that was available at the book store. That was the last time that transpired my college career.

So I transferred my current job to a location closer to the university which I was able to do for the semester. So not only was I taking 16 credits, I was working 40 hours a week for 3-4 straight months to ensure I saved up enough money to pay my tuition. It was beyond stressful and chaotic. I literally had no social life that entire fall semester. It was school, work, studying, and repeat. I couldn’t wait till the fall semester was over because it tested me in ways I never expected. I wanted to throw in the towel because the stress was just so much for me. However, I became disciplined and I saved up enough money to pay my tuition.

It sucked because it delayed my scheduling of the spring semester, which meant some classes I really wanted to get into I couldn’t because I was not able to sign up for them before the classes filled up. However, I managed to earn a 2.75 GPA for the semester. Yes, I got a 2.0 in my psychology course that I do believe was a mistake by the professor. A 2.5 in an ISS (Integrative Social Sciences requirement), a 3.0 in my humanities course and a 3.5 in my Introduction to English Course. Yes, I immediately switched my major form JRN to English and it was the best thing I did. Many undergraduates have no idea what they want to do when they first enter college. You sometimes need a year or two to really understand what makes you happy and excited in life. I’m glad I learned early so I was not taking filler courses and paying more out of pocket for classes I didn’t need.

My spring semester of my sophomore year was a vital one. Why? I learned how to balance work and school and I started the beginning of my surge as a college undergraduate. I took my first film studies course; I was able to complete a few more university requirements. I commuted every single week for 4 months back and forth from campus to go home to work my job. It helped me to save up money to pay for tuition and to pay for books, while catching the Greyhound bus. Did I hate the traveling yes, but you do what you have to do to succeed and I was determined. That became the norm; I commuted to and from campus about 2 hours each way the rest of my college career to work and ensure I paid for tuition, books and my expenses.

I learned the trick about books. Purchase them right away, get your syllabus for all your courses and copy pages of the material that you need, and then return the books before the refund period ends. I didn’t do that in my first semester, but I soon learned that from a student soon after and never purchased a book the rest of my college career without getting a refund unless it was a brand new book wrapped.

As I entered my junior year, things got better. Why? I was taking classes in my actual major and I was able to help my sister and a few of my pals at the same time. We were all taking our university requirements at the same time. So we were able to play off of each other when we needed help. My grades in my courses started to reach that sweet point between a 3.0 and 4.0. I actually got a refund the final semester of my junior year that I used that money to help my sister pay her tuition and books, and a stash a little bit in my bank account. I ended up staying on campus during the summer semester before the start of my senior year to ensure I got caught up on my educational status.

I was behind a semester, but after completing that summer session where I took 12 credits, you are always advised never to do more than 6 because the summer courses are accelerated courses people and I was working my day time traveling back and forth to school for 7 weeks. I managed to finally push my GPA above 3.0. It made me ecstatic. I was not near the Dean’s List yet, but I was getting closer, not to mention I took my first Screenwriting course, and I learned from my professor I have a unique approach to horror. Something he had never seen and told me to explore it.

As I entered my fall semester of my senior year, I may have bitten off more than I can chew. In the past, I would always take 3 to 4 courses. However, I had a bit of senioritis; I wanted to graduate, so I was taking 5 classes for both the fall and spring semester. I was taking 4 English courses in one semester. Beyond crazy. Why? I was writing a paper/essay every week. If not for one class it was for the other. Hell, as we neared final exams I think I had 5 papers do all in the same week. Mind you I also was working at the same time. Guess what? I made the Dean’s List earning a GPA of 3.625; the highest of my college career at that point. Seeing my name in the Student Union for the Dean’s List was a moment. I accomplished what I set my sights on.

I loved my courses my senior year because they were all film centric, except maybe 2-3. My spring semester was my highlight as I took more film courses and I was nearing graduation. I’ll never forget that day May 5, 2006. The day I graduated from college with my Bachelor of Arts in English with an Option Undergraduate degree in Film Studies. I was excited. I purchased my cap and gown which was only $25! I remember in high school senior dues were like $250 and I didn’t get to keep my gown. In college, I got to not only keep my cap, but the gown, which I still have to this day with all my college tassels and all. I made the Dean’s List for the second time.

I remember graduation day like yesterday. Getting dressed with my cap and gown staring in the mirror seeing that I was accomplishing something after my first semester I thought not possible. I’ll never forget everyone in my family wanting to take pictures with me, and just people telling me I was popular. It was not a popular contest for me; I think my family was just ecstatic to see someone in the family attain something they never expected.

The moment of truth, a total of 500 to 600 of us in the graduating class are receiving our moment on the stage, where I received a thunderous applause from my family and I took that photo that I have framed people. I remember after the ceremony getting so many hugs and pics with family members that were so happy. I remember going out to dinner and that entire weekend, wearing my cap to celebrate my accomplishment. When it was all said and done, I know I collected over $3000 to $3500 from family and friends. It was a lot of money, not as much as I expected to attain. I wanted a car, but my parents indicated they were proud of me, but it wasn’t something they could afford in the budget, so money was the next best thing for me.

However, graduating from college was just the beginning. I did have three courses I had to take over the summer to officially complete my college degree and they were the foreign language courses per my college’s requirements. Were they intense? Yes, but I made it thru. Now was time for the real challenge, life, a real job and taking on adulthood, but after a brief hiatus from school I would return to pursue my Master’s Degree and Doctorate Degree.