Opinion: beyond the stigma, there is a reason to be proud

Throughout high school, students are encouraged to aim for a higher education at top-notch universities. “If you aim for Harvard, you’ll land somewhere great.” Yet, for some reason, that comfortable campus students should be proud to attend never included community colleges.
Why? There continues to be a stigma around community colleges being valuable options when incoming students are selecting a campus. While the California Community College system is the largest higher education system in the nation, it is continuously said to be a last resort, reserved for students who were out of options.
Although this concept is usually coming from individuals who never attended community college, this is our reality. This is also why I acknowledge many Citrus College students remain hesitant to pride themselves in the CCC name.
But after a year at Citrus College, I’ve learned to understand that this reality in no way does our system or students justice. As part of the 2.1 million students who attend a California community college, there should be a sense of pride when saying “I attend Citrus College.” (I know, it sounds cliché, but stick with me here! I have a point.)
When breaking down this stigma that surrounds our college system, a core factor that ought to be addressed is understanding why community colleges are vital resources to many; while education is a right, education is definitely not free.
Coming from a homeless family, a college education was encouraged, but impossible to financially support. Although universities offer aid, there seemed to always be a few thousand dollars in need of loans. For some of us however, not even that is possible.
The CCC system offers the possibility to achieve a higher education, at the caliber of other general education instruction, but nowhere near the sky-high price tags.
When students who already struggle to stay afloat accept the reality of financial instability and continue to pursue an education, they are admirable and commendable. With four out of five students attending community college holding a part-time job, it is clear our students work to balance the luxury of education with the need to financially survive.
What’s my point?
My point is that there are often obstacles that blocked us from gliding into the four-year institution and on-campus life. However, for the students who refused to allow that to signal an end to their educational journey, there is a reason to be proud.
In the first year I attend Citrus College, I also came to understand the complex student body enrolled on our campus and within our college system. From veterans who took years off of college to serve our nation to parents who stepped out of the classroom to raise children of their own or children they took in, the stories are endless. But the reality? These students are back, varying in age (and generations, if I may add) with one goal in mind: graduate.
There are so many obstacles that stepped in the way of our college journey reflecting the ones we were encouraged to achieve, but we are still going, inching our way toward academic success.
Citrus is no Harvard, but it is our reality. Citrus College is a campus of so many possibilities. We offer a distinct opportunity to join a student body that reflects backgrounds of many countries. Citrus offers experience from staff who have faced the same life obstacles we are currently facing, but preserved and walked across their own graduation stages. We offer the services that do not ignore the personal struggles we face as students, but recognize life’s obstacles and work to support us.
Beyond the negative connotation of the CCC system, one reality is true: no matter what journey brought you to Citrus, you are here with the intention and passion to graduate. That is something to be proud of.