When the dust settles

Off the Beat

I guess I can start by telling you I graduated from college about two weeks ago, which is a pretty big accomplishment considering I got rejected from every university I applied to out of high school.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.

I had originally been accepted to San Jose State as a music major, and they even had me come up from Los Angeles to audition for the director of their choral music program! That didn’t end up working out, though, as they called me a couple of days before my freshman orientation and told me that they had made an error when reviewing my transcript and that my admission had actually been a mistake.

That was a tough blow, but how could I blame them? After all, I had just graduated high school with a 2.64 GPA and had failed Algebra I on account of missing 59 assignments in one semester.

A couple of days after they broke the news to me, I had a big “graduation/going off to college” party that all my friends and family attended. All afternoon, I fielded questions about heading up to San Jose and my plans of being a choir teacher. All afternoon, I lied through my teeth.

I knew they’d find out I’d been rejected eventually, but in that moment, I didn’t want to face the embarrassment of disappointing everyone who came out to support me.

When the nightmare of my rejection had finally settled in, I realized I was left with just one option: Mt. San Antonio College. Mt. SAC, as it’s called, was the local junior college near my hometown, and it was no exception to the stigmas and preconceived notions typically associated with community college.

“It’s high school with cigarettes,” my friend always joked.

“It’s kind of a trap — not too many motivated people there,” my ex-girlfriend’s dad told me when he explained why his daughter was going straight to university.

Here’s my favorite: “Yeah, I’m definitely not gonna end up at Mt. SAC because I don’t wanna drop out after a couple semesters and end up working at McDonald’s for the rest of my life.” That was a guy I grew up playing basketball with; I can’t stand that fucking guy.

Anyway, there it was. After my rejection, it seemed I was destined for three or four years of fighting for classes and parking spots until I finally gave up and went whichever way the wind blew me.

Nah. Fuck that.

When the dust settled, I brushed myself off, stopped feeling sorry for myself and came to see my situation as a tremendous opportunity. It was an opportunity to end my streak of mediocrity. An opportunity to exceed the lowly expectations that others had set for me. Above all, it was an opportunity for me to find myself, realize my potential and pursue it with everything I had.

I was done squandering the abilities God had given me, and I was ready to make the most of my circumstances. I wasn’t going to be the guy who aimlessly wandered the halls of Mt. SAC for four or five years. I was going to go in at full speed, kick some ass and move on to greener pastures.

I splashed onto the scene by immersing myself in my classes and by landing a spot on the college’s president’s list. When I wasn’t focusing on academics, I was mostly singing in a campus a cappella group and working in my uncle’s warehouse before class and on the weekends.

I’m very thankful for that warehouse job, because even though I constantly bitched and moaned about having to load up trucks and sweep trashed construction sites at ungodly hours of the morning, it taught me what it means to work hard. Anytime I stressed over a long research paper or a final exam, I thought back to those hot summer days of carrying itchy insulation in the warehouse, and my studies didn’t seem too bad after all.

After two years, I had completed my transfer requirements, accumulated a GPA much higher than that of my high school career and earned myself an admission to a university I had once thought unattainable. And while UC Berkeley certainly kicked my ass on a semiregular basis, it allowed me to discover my passion for writing and to form bonds and relationships I will cherish for as long as I live.

I chose to share this story with you because I want you to understand something: You are going to face rejection, and that is absolutely OK. It is not OK, however, to let rejection define you.

Never consider your failures and shortcomings to be indicative of your abilities. Rather, use those failures to recognize the areas in which you can improve yourself. Once you’ve done this, establish a dream so big that it sounds silly to say it out loud. When you’ve found that dream, don’t stop until you’ve achieved it.

Anyway, it’s about time I wrap this thing up, because my editor is hollerin’ at me for going over word count or something like that.

But let me thank you for staying by my side. Without you, I wouldn’t have been able to tell this story.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the summer’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.