By Salvador Oceguera
You hear it all the time this time of year: “Now that I’m graduating, I’m ready for the real world!”
Well, if all goes according to plan, next year I’ll be a graduating senior. But I won’t feel I’m ready for the real world.
I’ll feel like I’m ready to get back to the real one.
I’ve had some interesting classes and met interesting people in my three years at CSUDH. But I think I made a mistake. When I graduate next May, I’ll be $3,500 in debt and have a degree I’m not sure I’ll use. Had I stayed home, I’d be making $50,000 a year, doing something I could never learn in college.
What did I learn? Mainly, that college teaches you one thing: how to get through college. Sign the right forms, take the right classes, show up, do what you’re told. Basically, fake it until you make it.
As a junior, I finally got to what seemed to make sense for my major, but it still feels like a three-year nap that won’t be over until I’m back home doing something that few people I have met at CSUDH seem to appreciate: real work.
No, that work doesn’t fit into what we hear so often growing up: “go to college, get a degree, make something out of yourself.” It’s working in the agricultural fields of the Central Valley, where my dad works, helping to grow the crops that feed a nation of people who not only don’t appreciate the work that goes into it but often makes fun of those who do it.
I appreciate it because I’ve done it, working with the best teacher in my life: my father. He taught me nothing is ever handed to you; you must go out, find it, and earn it. And that includes work. He worked at finding work, moving from Mexico to Los Angeles, back to Mexico and back to Los Angeles looking for steady work. Finally, when I was 12 years old, he found it working in the vineyards near King City, outside of Salinas.
When I was in eighth grade, I was old enough to work with him during the summer, and though it was hard, and I had to quickly develop skills that some people my age couldn’t, such as the right way to prune grape vines to give them the proper shade so they could grow to their full potential, as well as the right amount of water they needed, I enjoyed it. I was doing something and getting paid for it. It was hard but honest work, and I felt that I was accomplishing something.
I haven’t felt like I’ve accomplished much at CSUDH. Probably because I don’t think I really belong here.
I thought I did. Even though I didn’t particularly like going to school, I found it easy, and I knew I liked to write. Because it was so easy, and because it was drummed into my dome that going to college was the only way to be a success, I thought I’d go in order to get a better job to support myself and my family.
But I quickly realized that my high school hadn’t prepared me for college; because my school was terrible and all you had to do to pass a class was show up.
I thought I was exceptional in high school. At CSUDH, I realized I wasn’t, at least not academically. College is great for the really smart students, those who want to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, even teachers.
But for the rest of us? I wish the system, or whatever, would be more honest. What I’ve discovered is that college isn’t for everyone. And it would be nice if there were people involved in education who would honestly tell high school students that there is no shame in getting a job that you don’t need a degree for. It would save people a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of frustration.
I haven’t completely abandoned the idea of college. I have one more year left, and I plan to explore new things around campus, maybe join some clubs that might me change my perspective. I want to make my last year worth it, and what better way to do that than to get involved?
But I also know that my fallback option, of returning home and working alongside my father, isn’t a fallback. It’s a viable, even an attractive, option. It’s a $50,000-a-year option and I know with a degree, I would most likely move up in the company my father works for. So, yeah. maybe college was helpful after all.
But I could also move up without a degree, mainly because I speak fluent English and Spanish and I’m not afraid to work, because I know what real work is.
So, if you are a graduating senior who thinks that you are now ready to make your mark on the real world, I hope you really think about what you’re saying. Because if you ask one of the agriculture workers from the Valley or the Central Coast they will tell you what the real world is. Your real world is considered a luxury for them, and they would do anything to be in your position. So, don’t take stuff for granted, because I’m sure if they were in your position they wouldn’t.
As for me, I’ve lived in both worlds. And though things might change, right now, I’m perfectly fine choosing one where the only real clock is the sun. Where work isn’t something you study or get just because of a degree. It’s what you do. And it’s something you can be proud of.