When I was in junior college in the 1990's at Mt. San Antonio College ("Mt. SAC") in Walnut, I just wanted to get through it and transfer. It took me years because I waitressed full-time and took classes around my work schedule. It never occurred to me to quit working. This first generation college student knew nothing about financial aid.
I had been on my own since I was seventeen and had to pay the bills. My younger sister Annie and I lived in a two bedroom apartment in Upland. Annie attended Mt. SAC as well and we worked at different restaurants together. She drove me everywhere, including to school which was at least a twenty to thirty minute drive each way, because my car was always on the fritz. Transportation was always an issue for me in my twenties. People take their cars for granted and when you don't have a reliable one, life is difficult to say the least and sometimes impossible (especially with the unreliable public transportation in the Inland Empire).
My English professor Holly Cannon assigned us to read James Joyce's story "Araby" from "Dubliners" and I was again hooked to the written word. Professor Cannon told me that I was a talented writer. Back then, computers were uncommon and she would write compliments on the front page of my hand written papers in red script.
"The Mountaineer" was Mt. SAC's monthly newspaper. I took a journalism class and applied to work for the paper. After one semester, the advisor Ms. P asked me to be the editor-in-chief. Ms. P had previously worked for the Washington Post in DC and I idolized her. She was sarcastic and tough as brick. You did what she said and you did it right. When she asked me to be the editor, I was too scared to say no and pushed my worries about work aside.
Ms. P knew about my money problems and offered me a small stipend. I walked around campus with my recorder in hand looking for stories. I stayed in the office until late at night writing and researching and editing other students' work. When I broke the story of the student council buying themselves beepers with student fees (titled "The Beep Goes On"), Ms. P entered the story into a contest and it won second place.
Every month, we drew out the newspaper's layout together on wax paper with crayon. We cut out the articles and headlines and placed them with tape. Advertisements had to fit in as well and I learned the concept of too much white space.
I loved publishing day. Ms. P and I would drive over to Colton to pick up the papers from the press after which we put them in the racks and handed them out to students walking by. It made me forget all my money struggles and that dreaded math class I was trying hard to pass.
Ms. P tried to mentor me. I was a bit self-destructive in my twenties (ahem, let me correct that, very self destructive) and I remember one day I came into the office with a severe hangover. She yelled at me and I yelled back. I screamed at her that I was barely making it financially and that the paper was taking over my life. She told me that I should apply to Columbia's journalism program in New York. I scoffed at her. Me, this barely making it waitress from the Inland Empire, in New York? "Forget that," said my twenty something self. My forty year old self wishes I had at least considered New York. I would have loved it. Ms. P was disappointed when I told her that I had decided to apply to UCR's English Literature program and after a year (and my third time taking and finally passing that damn math class), I gave up my post as editor-in-chief and transferred to UCR.
But, I never forgot that feeling of just pressed warm newspaper in my hand and seeing my name in a byline. The black ink marking my skin. Reminding me that I was worthy and I could do this.