A journey worth taking

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A journey worth taking

Andrea Dupree ,
Copy Editor

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It took me 12 years, six months and 13 days to finish college. 

I’ve been taking college courses since I was 19 and my daughter was 9-months-old. It was incredibly difficult to juggle all of my responsibilities: I had a baby, a full-time school schedule and a 30-hours-per-week work schedule. Sometimes my school load would become too much and I would drop a class or two, or all of them.

Sometimes I worked too many hours, or couldn’t work enough hours. Other times I waited eagerly for my unemployment check to arrive. I worked for Old Navy, UPS, Nike, Macy’s, Target, FedEx, temp agencies and law firms. I’ve done side jobs to make ends meet. I had to do what I thought was best for my daughter, so I worked as much as I could and sometimes didn’t go to class so I could work extra hours.

As a teen mom, I mostly turned my friends down when they wanted to go out and party. I dropped a class here and there when I was too exhausted to spend time with my daughter. While I was in college, my daughter came first, work was second, and school was last.

The thought always crossed my mind to quit school entirely. I had great jobs with great benefits. I would think to myself, “All we need is a secure future. Do I really need to finish school? The cost is too high.” Then I would look at my daughter and know I couldn’t just give up. It was important to show her — and myself — that a person should finish what they start. It did not matter how real the struggle was. Struggles never stop being real even when you think your life is going smoothly.

But this June, I finally walked across the stage to receive my bachelor’s degree in communication from Cal State East Bay. After being in school for what felt like an eternity, I told myself that I was over graduation and did not need to participate in commencement. In addition to CSUEB, I had attended Merritt College in Oakland, Heald College in Hayward, and Saint Mary’s College in Moraga in an effort to get all the classes I needed. I had incurred so much student debt, that I convinced myself not to spend $84 on a cap and gown.

My mother, after hearing my “I don’t wanna” rant, pursed her lips and stayed quiet. My grandmother bashed me on Facebook and told me I better participate. A week before commencement, my Dad said, “Hey, how come we haven’t heard any dates or information about graduation?” He must have not heard my rant to Mom.

When I gave him the same spiel, he was not at all quiet about it. “That’s not fair. You don’t feel like you need to complete this part of your life? Your daughter needs to see you graduate, we need to see you graduate. YOU need to see you graduate.” Then my dad handed me the 84 clams I needed to purchase my cap and gown.

A week before graduation, I picked up my cap, gown, my red stole of gratitude, tickets, parking passes, and graduation announcements. I bought vittles from Michael’s Craft Store to decorate my cap. Dr. Gale Young, the outgoing chair of the communications department, gave me a cord in red and gold, the colors of the department.

On the day of graduation, it was a blast of snapchats, selfies, solo cups and screams of excitement. That is until I saw my mom standing in the middle of the crosswalk by the gym with her arms outstretched waiting for her hug. It was waterworks from both of us.

For a long time I admonished myself for the time it has taken me to finish school. So many nights I stayed awake looking at my daughter sleeping and plagued with shoulda coulda wouldas. She’s been my little soldier through all of these trials and experiences and she is one of the only reasons I did not just quit. Sure it took me a long and winding road to get here, but I can’t help but feel East Bay is where I belonged. At every pit stop in my life I have met exceptional people and encountered extraordinary things. In fact, it was courses taken at CSUEB that caused me to question whether or not I still wanted to go back into law.

It is bittersweet to begin my new job this week as a legal secretary for a firm in downtown San Francisco.  I have been copy editor for the Pioneer Newspaper for the last two years and do not like the finality of stepping down. While it is goodbye to my home and homies at The Pioneer, this week marks the beginning of my actual career path.

I’ve held positions in a law office before, but there is something that feels more complete about this move. It feels good to be back into the area of my first love: the law. Legal secretaries, legal assistants and paralegals are often the unsung heroes in the field, but that doesn’t make the work any less enjoyable or fulfilling for me. Call me crazy, but I love working under pressure and being forced to think on my toes.

I’m glad my father talked some sense into me. After trying to finish school for so long, I had lost sight of the importance of celebrating victories. As a single mother, graduating college is definitely a victory.