April 16, 2015: Exactly one month until I don an extremely stylish cap and gown, walk across a platform, and receive confirmation that I will be receiving a piece of paper, in the mail in about 6 months, that says I have completed my undergraduate education. Now, I will be 24 years old when this happens, which means I did not start right after high school at 18.
Graduating high school, like most of my classmates, I had NO idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew that I loved working with kids but didn’t really know what path of education I wanted to take. I also knew that I was not ready to leave home quite yet and knew that a four-year university would be very expensive. So I started at one of my local junior colleges. Scholarship I received from the Miss Santa Clara Auxiliary and the Miss California’s Outstanding Teen Organization helped me pay for classes while I was there, which helped a lot. I had many moments of doubt and frustration. My mom, who did not go to college, told me I had to stay in school and not give up. However, my dad did graduate from college, after seven tough years. He understood the struggle to keep going and stay motivated enough to do it. He assured me that I always had the option to stop going to college, but would have to work and start paying for things. I really think that having this option and his patience and support really helped get me on the right road. I’m not saying my mom wasn’t supportive, she just knows the regret of not going to college and didn’t want me to be in the same position as she is now. My parents have both always supported me and knew I had to make the decision for myself. And I finally did. I got a plan together and finished in three years with my AA degree in Psychology and certificate in Sociology. In the middle of those years, I was Miss Santa Clara 2010. During my time as Miss Santa Clara, I gained more confidence, interview skills, and was truly changed by being surrounded by so many incredibly educated and driven women at Miss California. I saw the opportunities that I had at my feet and had help from the amazing scholarships from the Miss California Organization to continue my education.
I never had a dream school. I actually found my university unexpectedly. I was in Monterey for some races and noticed we were driving through what looked like a college town. I looked it up and there it was–California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB). I immediately looked at their list of majors and found a very interesting and comprehensive degree that encompassed all of my interests. Ready for the name? It’s a mouthful…Collaborative Health and Human Services (CHHS), with a concentration option in Social Work. I took a risk and only applied there. Luckily, I got in! Or did I? Come to find out, the school’s computer system had accidently admitted a handful of students when it shouldn’t have. My admittance was revoked. After many calls, some more doubting, and lots of waiting, I was admitted again and this time it was real. I moved out of my parents’ house in Santa Clara and in to my first apartment in Seaside, down the street from school. At this time, I was 21 and definitely more ready to be on my own and start my years as a “grown up” than I would have been at 18.
I look back at my last three years at CSUMB and I have grown so much, lost all of the doubt I had, learned more than I could have ever imagined, and had fun the whole time. I never dreaded going to classes. I found what I am passionate about and now see the light at the end of this long educational tunnel that started after high school. Six years in school seems like a lifetime when you start, but now that I am one month away from being done with it, it went by too fast! I am hoping to attend graduate school next year and get my Masters in Social Work and become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I work with the older adult population now and love it. I would have never had the opportunity to work where I am now if I hadn’t chosen to stick it out and continue with my higher education.
There’s not always a yellow brick road to follow, but I’ve always liked to make my own path anyway.
Yours truly, Melissa Bowling
Miss Silicon Valley