Ending the Stigma by Fiona Almeida

941996_10151447904952709_1922316783_nRecently, I came across an article on InsideHigherEd.com in which Steve Robinson, the president of Owens Community College, in Toledo, Ohio, talked about the negative stigma surrounding community colleges. Robinson was attempting to take on the stigma directly using the media campaign #EndCCStigma and encouraged others to share their community college stories.

Reading this article inspired me to share my experience as a graduate of Middlesex Community College. In 2012, I proudly walked across the stage to receive my first college degree. It was a crucial point in my life.

I grew up in apartheid South Africa where my prospect of attending college was an elusive dream. My story reads the same as many immigrants: I came to America with $50 in my pocket – really, that’s it! I arrived in America post-apartheid as an au pair (nanny) to live with an American family and care for their three beautiful daughters.

Thinking back to that time in my life, I am reminded of a quote that I often heard as a child from my family: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” My experience at MCC was rewarding because it reinforced this belief and the importance of a college education

When I left South Africa, I was uncertain if the reality of what awaited me in the U.S. would live up to my expectations. During my au pair experience, I had the privilege to enroll in classes at Middlesex as an international student. Thinking back to that time in my life, I am reminded of a quote that I often heard as a child from my family: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” My experience at MCC was rewarding because it reinforced this belief and the importance of a college education.

MCC12_4008.jpgI am the first in my family to graduate from college. When I arrived at MCC I had many mixed emotions almost to the point where I began to convince myself that college was not for someone like me. Despite my nerves and anxiety, I attended night classes. The first couple of semesters were difficult. to say the least. I struggled because I didn’t think I had the discipline to be an effective student. I felt strongly that I was meant to fail and that I was wasting my time in a classroom. Yet, I so desperately wanted to know more about world history, and spent countless hours in my biology class staring intensely at plant cells through a microscope. I felt like an imposter. I was so conditioned to my segregated life in South Africa that all these new experiences of belonging, acceptance and diversity were overwhelming.

As I was challenged by my experiences, I simultaneously embraced many of them. It was at MCC where I began my journey of self learning and became more aware of my exploration. My community college experiences helped shape my growth academically, while providing me with a new outlook on life.

MCC12_1942After struggling for the first couple of semesters, I began to get the swing of things and understood that I do belong as a college student. A degree was no longer an elusive dream. I took a diverse selection of classes which challenged me academically and stimulated my intellectual curiosity.

I chose to attend MCC for a variety of reasons — it was the most cost effective  (especially since I was as an international student), it had a flexible academic schedule, and a diverse selection of majors. There was also a team of dedicated faculty and staff who worked tirelessly with their students to ensure success and to keep us motivated.

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In addition, MCC had an abundance of academic and social resources which created opportunities for me to be part of campus organizations, receive fellowships, and even gave me the opportunity to travel abroad to China. My experience at MCC has added a critical dimension to my life’s journey.

After MCC I went on to earn my bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College and a Master of Public Policy from Tufts University. I strongly support the community college system which so richly shaped my life. I hope you can join me in helping to #EndCCStigma.

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