A Gay Ol’ Time: My First Year at Pomona College - Diego Zaragoza
Self reflection isn’t as wishy-washy as we often make it out to be. If I took away anything from my first year at Pomona College, it was the importance of stopping and just thinking about stuff. During my second semester, I took a class called “Chicanxs and Latinxs in Education”, which encouraged me to reflect on how my circumstances have lead me to one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the country. Even though I was grateful for the resources that I was offered, such as emergency grants and an academic advisor who actually checked in on me, it was impossible to not become critical of… basically everything. Granted, I was taking gender & women’s studies and media studies courses, so the critical mindset was inevitable, but I wasn’t expecting to become so critical of my OWN LIFE. I realized pretty early on that I wasn’t a “cookie-cutter” kind of student, as my ex-choir director kindly put it. I liked to push the boundaries of what was considered professional, I was a terrible procrastinator, and if the class wasn’t engaging enough, I would often fall asleep. Some people might say that I didn’t try my best. And maybe they’re right. Maybe I didn’t do what was best for my grades. But I sure as hell did what was best for myself. Second semester was super stressful, so I’m glad I worked at my own pace and took care of myself. Through my student staff position at the school’s Queer Resource Center, I planned and (successfully) executed the first-ever Queer Fashion Show. That was honestly the highlight of my first year. Even though I felt the immense pressure of not letting the event flop, I had the pleasure of building numerous relationships with other queer students around the Claremont Colleges, plus the event incorporated both my passion for fashion and queer representation. Planning the show kept me focused on the reasons why I was attending Pomona College. Around the time that I was organizing the show, I began to question if college was even for me. It wasn’t a case of impostor syndrome, but rather a genuine question of whether a liberal arts education would prepare me best for the career that I wanted to pursue. I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, but at least I know that I want to work with fashion and the empowerment of queer people. I love drag, I love clothes, and I love my queerness. Knowing this was more than enough to get me through the sleepless nights, countless research papers, and constant feelings of not belonging. On top of that, I was lucky to be surrounded by friends who kept me grounded and made my first year at Pomona College memorable.
 Here’s the tea. So I was in the Pomona College Choir my first semester and I hated it. Since I dreaded going to choir, I obviously wasn’t passionate about it, so I didn’t put in the work, which meant that I was alwaysbehind. I tried it again second semester, but the choir director realized that I was lip-syncing half of the songs so we talked about it and I decided to quit because I clearly wasn’t into it.
 Impostor syndrome: psychological pattern in which people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud” (Wikipedia)
Reflections during Junior Year - Jose Arcadia, '15
Hello Kippsters, my name is Jose Arcadia, I’m beginning my second quarter of my Junior year, and I would like to share what I’ve learned so far about college life.
One of the first things I learned on my arrival in college is that high school is definitely not college. That’s obvious, right? Wrong! Coming out of high school, I think that we as students tend to believe that our academic successes in high school mean we’ve learned how to “do stuff right” and we’re done learning about those “basic” skills, but this isn’t the case at all. It took me by surprise that something as straightforward as essay writing could be so different in college. Sure, the basics are all the same (paragraphs, arguments, evidence, words), but I quickly learned and had to adapt to the expectation that the standard five paragraph essay was no guarantee of success anymore. Academics in college are less about some predetermined formula that the professor gives you, and more about finding your own way of doing things. There are lots of ways to do something well, and as high schoolers we felt comfortable being told what the “correct” way was, but I learned that college is about going beyond the standard right or wrong; it’s about finding your own voice and your own way.
I’ve also learned that time management is of the utmost importance. High school made it really easy to compartmentalize school and personal life, but in college, everything just blurs together. Learning to manage your time wisely is essential because it is easy to get overwhelmed with homework, class, a job, and other things you most certainly will want to do as a college student. If you make yourself a schedule that includes things like when you will have lunch, when you will study, or go to work, then you’re halfway there. Seriously, making a schedule for myself and sticking to it not only maximized my efficiency throughout the day, but it also helped me hone my discipline. We all procrastinate and we all regret it, but if you manage to follow your schedule for a week straight, then it will become way easier to stick to it and you’ll succeed in your studies.
Of course, I didn’t just create time for studying all day every day, in fact, quite the opposite. I found that creating schedules made it easier for me to create spaces for free time, and it’s been very important to my mental and emotional health to give myself freetime to allow my brain to rest. It has actually also given me the space to find the subjects I am truly passionate about. Exploring new subject matter is, of course, something that can be explored academically through classes, ut also through extracurriculars like clubs, so I would advise anyone to make sure you take a wide variety of subjects and explore as much as you can afford to. Yes, this could lead to switching majors (so many people change their majors simply because they took a class and found out they loved astronomy way more than they liked accounting or engineering), but don’t let this scare you. Choosing a major because it’s something you thought you wanted since you were five years old is a silly reason to major in anything. Being flexible and open minded has lead me in directions I never really thought I would go, but I’m so grateful for. It’s like they always say: if you love your career, you’ll never work a day in your life. Anyways, following my instincts coming to college has been important because, of course, those instincts contain a bit of personal truths and realities. Doing this has helped me find what makes me happy and stay invested in the work and other extracurricular activities that I have decided to incorporate into my life. This, in turn, has made school a lot more bearable, less scary, and more fun, especially since I’ve taken advantage of all the resources that are available to me on campus.
Alumni Reflection - Cindy Castillo, '16
Hello, my name is Cindy Castillo. My experience with KIPP has been a long journey of 8 years. To start off, I attended KIPP: Heartwood Academy in the 5th grade through the 8th grade. That first transition I made from middle school to high school was definitely exciting. KIPP taught me well and treated me fair: I earned a few trips to LA, Yosemite, Washington DC and a trip to Istanbul for 2 weeks. In short, I had lots of opportunities to grow academically as well as personally. I learned the rules and expectations a college campus would have of me and got to practice some when I arrived at KIPP: San Jose Collegiate. I (finally) graduated on June 9th, 2016 and while graduating high school was a memorable experience (and felt like it took forever to arrive to), there was still so much I needed to learn and those lessons were not necessarily easy ones.
Applying and then going to college can be an emotional and intimidating moment: there’s so many factors that need to be weighed before making final decisions. I was initially advised by one of my college counselors to attend a UC, however I was hesitant knowing my financial circumstances. I was convinced to apply to some UC’s and got accepted to UC Merced. I was pretty stoked to get accepted by a UC. Education is very important in my family, so the fact that I was going to college (and a UC, no less!) was a big deal for me. As I started to visit Merced, I realized there were some things I was unprepared for: it was hotter and drier than I expected, and it looked like a smaller city than I really wanted. Near the right side of the modern looking campus layed a long yellow field full of hay and cows. Nor I nor my family particularly liked the location nor the distance, however I was determined to have the “real” college experience at whatever cost...that is, until having an actual college experience showed me that there was more to college than just getting a roommate and going to classes.
After going to orientation, there were suddenly several issues with my enrollment: all of my personal information, my application, my financial aid packages, everything somehow got lost; it was as if I had never applied. I tried my best to reserve my spot and continue with classes by faxing documents of all kinds, writing a few essays, calling every office I could and what not, but it was unfortunately too late and I lost my position for the spring semester. It was one of the most frustrating moments of my life that became even worse when I realized I was still expected to pay a balance of $24,000 for a semester I could not even attend. The reality of being outside of high school and having to deal with real issues like bills and applications struck me like it never had before: I’m not in highschool anymore, I’m an adult and needed to think like one and problem solve to find my way out of this horrible situation. I was able to avoid the $24,000 fee, but was forced to deal with the consequences of that: withdraw my application. Thus, I applied to Evergreen Valley Community College for the fall semester and didn’t look back.
I’m actually very proud I applied to EVC because I’m able to be flexible with work, school, and family. Don’t get me wrong, going to a UC can be a great thing, but you have to set higher academic and economical expectations for yourself. Attending EVC has allowed me to have time to do the things I need to do to make college affordable for me. I’m able to save up the money I was going to pay to UC Merced for the future. It has also given me time to really think about the major I want to focus on and finish my general education requirements before focusing on my career. In addition, I am also able to be with my family and friends more often because the distance and housing isn’t a problem.
I have learned so much that I wish I had known before graduating, like the stark differences between highschool and college life: high school can be stressful, but college is hectic. High school requires little money investment from anyone, while in college one pays for everything from textbooks, to classes, to food, and other academic materials. Last semester at EVC, I only took 11 credits (four classes) and had to pay about $500 plus, which in the grand scheme of college tuition isn’t much, but when you need to work to pay your own way through college, it’s the difference between getting your car fixed and being able to sign up for classes. Applying to waivers and scholarships can help a lot in college and it’s crucially important for people to put in time to look for those opportunities. It’s a skill most people don’t really have or think of developing. If I could go back to KSJC, I’d be more on top of my academics knowing how much things like scholarships can change your life. I, fortunately, have applied to a few scholarships, waivers and FAFSA and it has been really beneficial in helping my family and me, although I still wish I had started doing that since high school. I sure would like to take time back to fix my actions in high school, but the experiences I’ve had since graduation have also been important because they taught me a lot. Every journey has its obstacles, it’s up to you to handle them the correct way and learn from it. I definitely have. Good luck and have a blessed journey learning to become an adult.
Sophomore Year Reflection - Ricardo Gudiel, '15
As I start wrapping up my second year in college, I come to learn a lot of things about life and about myself. As I’ve been back and forth between SJSU and EVC, I have learned to be a lot more independent than ever. I have always had a job since high school and it’s the same story now being in college. So, balancing work, school, sleep, social life, family time, and sports/gym has made me become a lot more responsible. I’ve never favored one thing more than the other because those are all the things that keep me sane and are important to my life. I recently picked up learning how to DJ as well so I’ve needed to throw that into the equation as well but other than that, my life has stayed pretty consistent to how it was in high school.
As for my college experience itself, I’ve had pretty mixed emotions on the journey so far. I have enjoyed the environment of all young adults like myself with all the same mindset of wanting to do something good in their lives. I have definitely enjoyed all the people I’ve met so far and I plan to meet because I have met a bunch of people from all around the world and I have met people that I now consider to be close friends.
On the flip side, college has also been a very stressful process that I feel like no one can fully prepare you for. It has been stressful trying to get every class you need for your requirements, stressful to pay for tuition, books, supplies and other college costs, and it has been stressful maintaining all the credits I take each semester. Classes are very hard to get because you’re not the only one in the university trying to get the same class and when I mean “you’re not the only one in the university”, I mean, hundreds, even thousands of students need the same classes that you do. It becomes a competition trying to get the classes you want, with the specific professors that you want and at the specific times that you want. As far as costs go, college is a place where you practically get charged for everything, which is very stressful and discouraging for those who can’t afford it. The main thing that costs so much are the books, so you should do what I do, which is make a friend in the class, rent the book you need, split the cost of the book and share it because nine times out of ten, you don’t need the book every day. And the last goes without saying, college is a place where you need to keep your grades up and it gets very difficult to do that if you are a person who can’t manage a busy agenda with numerous classes. You would need to find that balance where you’re not taking too many classes and you’re not taking too little so that you aren’t overwhelmed with the amount of work and responsibility.
Even though it may seem like I had more negative things to say, I don’t dislike college. I just think that people frequently approach college like something they’re entitled to and will happen no matter what, when in reality it is something that requires a lot of effort because of the various issues that many students face. I feel like college is not just about educating yourself with content specific knowledge for a career, but it’s also about learning about yourself and pushing yourself to your physical, emotional, and psychological limits to accomplish what you can.
Reflections from Freshman Year - Michelle Perez, '16
Hello, my name is Michelle Perez. My journey with KIPP started when I attended KIPP Heartwood Academy in fifth grade, the earliest grade that they offered at that time. After that I attended KIPP:San Jose Collegiate where I graduated from last summer on June 9th, 2016. I am currently in my second quarter as a freshman at California State University East Bay. I commute to Hayward every day since I can not afford to live on campus, but before I get into the details of my life after high-school, let me start with my graduation.
Graduating was a very important moment in my life. I, along with every other alum of my grade level, had been talking about 2016 since we were still just 5th graders at Heartwood back in 2008. Once the day finally came, you can only imagine the excitement that I felt. That said, getting there was no easy feat: I have regrets about my high school history, like many others of you, and ultimately my experience turned out to be the complete opposite of what I expected. While my first years of high school were difficult and I had a difficult time adjusting to the setting and expectations, senior year felt natural and I was completely in my element. I graduated summa cum laude both semesters of my senior year and at the time I felt guilty about not having been able to have done equally well in the years prior. At the end of senior year, I kept repeating to myself “I should have actually read the books. I should have fought my laziness as a freshman. I should have slept earlier on school nights. I should have paid more attention in class. I should have cared more about deadlines.”
There are so many things I wish I could have done better and that probably would have made my life easier now if I had bother to do them when I was younger, however, there are also so many things that I learned in high school that I will and have carried with me to college. I do not regret staying up late finishing my assignments, which turned out to be some of my greatest work I’ve done. I do not regret making memories with my closest friends. And to some extent, I do not regret the the mistakes I made in high school because they have taught me to be cautious of my own negative tendencies, like procrastination that continues to haunt me even today.
Fast Forward! I’m in college and I have to face problems that people I used to call “grown-ups” have to face, for example, I’ve been struggling to pay my tuition. I’ll spare you the details of how much exactly I’m paying each quarter, needless to say, I should’ve started the search for scholarships a long time ago. Sure, I was told by lots of people who knew what was coming to save and apply and search, but finances never really strike you until you’re scrimping and saving in any way you can just to save some money. The financial struggle has definitely been real, but, obviously, extremely worth it.
I’m not wise and I’m certainly not trying to use myself as an exemplar of life after high school. In fact, I’m sure other people's transitions have been easier, or, at the very least, filled with less financial worries. This was my journey and though it was tough, I would not change any of it. The late nights, the stressful moments, all the struggles, they were worth it. It’s been scary to face the real world after high school, but I’ve survived my journey so far and this is only the beginning. I enter my future armed with the lessons high school has taught me; have fun and work hard. Things may be tough at times, but I look at the bright side and count my blessings. I’m here. I’ve gotten this far, so I enjoy every moment.
The Last Seven Months - Rebecca Lopez, '16
Having graduated 7 months ago life after graduation has been more or less surreal. Thinking back, my graduating class and I were all at KIPP together less than a year ago and now we are all at different points in our lives. Some of us moved to completely different cities, most of us have jobs, possibly made new friends and experienced new things. But the one thing for me at least that hasn't changed is the care I have for my fellow classmates regardless of how times have changed.
Since I attend a community college I don't exactly have the “real” college experience of going to a big campus, parties, and the vibe from the school overall. Being that my campus is relatively small, it's in a way like a large high school but with a lot more independence. The independence was one huge new experience I encountered for sure, especially since you have the free will to do whatever you want. It was a big change to have to rely on not knowing everyone in the class but it also made metting new people interesting. In college I've meet people from different places, some from San Jose and even some from Canada, which is pretty cool because you get to encounter people you may otherwise never have.
Having transitioned into college, what's been fairly easy for me would have to be going to school in general. Now with the independence and responsibility being on being all on me, I’ve found it not such a super drag to go to my classes since for 8 years I was at school for at least 8 hours a day. Although there are those days were missing one class doesn't seem so bad, but I end up going because sometimes missing 1 class is like missing 5. Also doing my work for my classes hasn't been to difficult since in my experience although the work is harder, my drive to finish my work has grown since unlike high school, teachers don't always give extensions.
On the other side, there have been difficult times in college but nothing super difficult time. One thing was have to “friends” with complete strangers in class because more often than not that one person could save you later on. Luckily for me, out of my 4 classes my first semester I had friends from KIPP in 3 classes so I only had to adjust to meeting new people in 1 class. Even though this may not seem super difficult it is a big difference coming from KIPP where everyone knew everyone for years.
As I mentioned, me going to a community college isn't super different from high school since it isn't an actual university; although it is still a big change from KIPP. Having gone to KIPP since I was in the 5th grade, I knew almost if not everyone I went to school with from teachers to my classmates. So transferring from a small nit school environment to a larger setting where I didn't know very many people was a game changer. All I still had friends from KIPP at EVC, we obviously didn't have the same schedules so I walked into class not really knowing anyone. Also unlike the everyday routine of seeing your friends in high school, in college it becomes a lot harder to just hang out with them. For instance, with my friends we all have to find a day were our school plus our work schedules link up so we can see each other, and it becomes harder when some friends go to school in a different city. But although that part might be tough, knowing each of my friends are working hard for what they want makes the time appear more bearable. Going into my second semester of my first year, I’m honestly looking forward to being back in school. Having a whole month off for winter break was great and all but I in a way wanna be back in classes. Especially since as a college student, picking your classes is all up to you so I’m excited to see what all my classes this semester are going to be about. Further down the line, I’m excited to transfer to a university and start my classes for my major in possibly Child Development. I’ve known for years that I wanted to have a career working with kids because kids have always been a big part of my life so having that as a career would be one that I know I’d love to wake up every morning to go do. And having turned 18, I'm looking forward to what life has to being my way regardless of it being good or bad. Life for me is just starting and I know my path is going to have some exciting things coming up. Overall, although my life at KIPP wasn't so long ago my life now has changed for mostly the better and by no means is slowing down, it’s just getting started.
The College Life - Patxy Cordova
After graduation, whenever I thought about college I felt more scared than excited. In fact, the week leading up to move-in day was bittersweet for me because over the summer I had become incredibly close with my co-workers. The day before my family would take the four hour drive to Santa Barbara, I had one last “hurrah” with my friends and stayed out late with them. I figured since it would be the last time I saw them for a while, it would be worth the sacrifice of time. In the morning, my family and I began our trek to Santa Barbara and I cried the whole way. That night, I stayed with my parents at the hotel and the next morning I was so anxious that I had a panic attack and forced my parents to take me to the ER. Needless to say, my move-in experience was not the best: I was nervous about meeting new people, I was anxious about starting new classes, and I felt alone and depressed being away from friends and family. Things looked grim.
But it didn’t take too long for things to get better after that. I was fortunate enough to have been partnered with a roommate that I became really good friends with and hall mates that became like a second family. Through them, I found a source of comfort and joy. Making friends has been exciting and certainly added to my enjoyment here at UCSB, but of course, having friends has also been a little stressful. After all, when it’s a Wednesday afternoon and class is over, it’s hard not to let friends get the best of you… Speaking of academics, transitioning from high-school to college academics has had its fair share of difficulties, but has also been tremendously fun. It has been difficult to settle into a routine, which is good and bad: good because I enjoy the unpredictability and spontaneity of my schedule, bad because it’s been a struggle to force myself to get to work when I really need to. I know these descriptions of my experience sound very hot and cold, and that’s mostly because of how drastic the shift from high school to college has been. But overall, college is everything I wanted and more. I am super excited about next year when I move into an apartment with three friends (we already signed the lease)! Our apartment has a pool, a gym room, a 3rd floor view, is 5 minutes away from campus on our bikes, and is in Isla Vista which is a small section of Santa Barbara next to the beach. I’ll practically have it all! I’m looking forwarding to exploring this new level of independence and looking forward to the many more adventures I’ll have in the coming year. College has been incredible so far, and I’m sure still has much more in store for me.
Freshman Reflections - Juli Bautista
Freshman Hurdles: This first year of school has literally been the biggest learning experience of my life. At first I didn’t think leaving my family would be hard. Afterall, I had done it every summer for a month over the span of four years. Since we had planned for me to go home once a month, I thought it would be a piece of cake, but in all honestly it wasn’t. The second my parents walked out of my dorm and drove away, I instantly felt abandoned and alone. This was college. This was freshman year. Over 35,000 new students from all over the world roamed campus attempting to make friends and trying their best to never feel alone. One thing I wish I could have understood before coming to college is that, there is nothing wrong with being alone, or doing things on your own. No, it doesn’t make your weak or a loser. In life, and college, you will spend immense amounts of time eating, commuting, studying alone. Not all the time, but sometimes. And that’s perfectly normal.
Making Mistakes: After making friends and syncing up schedules, it has been fun to go out and explore on the weekends. A lot of times people get to college and go crazy with all this new freedom. Yeah there’s sex, drugs, alcohol, and a million other illegal things you can do, but it’s all about choice. Well… it’s all about the right choices. KIPP was no walk in the park and I spent my fair share of time procrastinating, but things have definitely changed now. It’s a little terrifying that I have so much to lose now and, seemingly, so many ways to screw it all up. I constantly remind myself that 1. I’m paying to attend, 2. If my grades aren’t up to par they can simply dismiss me for a quarter, semester, or a year, and 3. people that don’t take school seriously can get kicked out for childish mistakes or worse, childish attitudes. There’s no need for perfection, no one is perfect, but with great power comes great responsibility. What greater power can there be than controlling your destiny?
Passing Classes: In high school, if you had a terrible grade there could be any number of excuses you would use to justify your grades to yourself, your friends, and your parents. But in college it doesn’t matter if your professor has a thick accent, or your TA just moved to the US from Japan 2 weeks ago and is just learning English, or if you have over 500 students in your class! At the end of the day you need to learn how to ask for help and pass. No late work, no make up work, no extra credit. That’s it. While this is terrifying on several different levels, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself in going through all of this. I came in asking myself questions like “can I do this?” and now, I don’t need to ask. I know I can. It hasn’t been easy, the adjustment was a big one, and sometimes I can’t do it by myself (office hours have become my best friend), but success is something we can all have. We just need to be willing to go out and work for it.
Culture Shock: In high school I was surrounded by people who looked, talked, and were raised like me. I went from a school with 400 students where 80% of them were Latinos, to a school with 35,000 students where only 19% of them were Latinos. Don’t get me wrong, diversity is great, I just could have never imagined in high school that there would be times when I would be the only latina in a class. Communicating who I am and where I come from hasn’t been something I’ve needed to consciously do, and now, it’s something that seems to underscore every comment I make in class. My experiences, all of our experiences, are so much more unique than I could understand when I was in highschool. And precisely because our experiences are so unique that it’s so important for us to share them now that the world we live in is so much bigger.
Next Year: Next year I will be moving in with three friends off campus. I am excited to be living on my own, having to cook and pay bills like a semi-responsible adult. I look forward to meeting new people and continuing my education at UC Davis, and getting involved with more organizations like Hermanas Unidas (an organization that put latinas on UC Davis campus in touch with each other and promotes cultural awareness). I want to keep in touch to help high schoolers with the same struggles I went through as a high schooler and college freshman and look forward to welcoming KIPP alums on campus.