I almost didn’t graduate from high school. With two-months left of my senior year, I was twenty-five credits behind the required two-hundred needed to graduate. I was embarrassed. I was seventeen-years-old, already having dedicated twelve-years of my life to schooling, from Kindergarten to 12th grade, years that were never coming back, and I was on the verge of throwing away all those years with nothing to show for them. This was my hell. I had done it to myself. I was aware of this. I tried to act like I didn’t care, but I did. I was tough on the outside, but inside I was hurting, ashamed. I wanted to graduate. I really did. I knew I owed it to myself. I owed it to my parents. I had enough sense to know that it wasn’t too late, so I shifted my attitude, and focused on putting in the necessary to get me across the stage as a high school graduate.
In case you didn’t know, public school systems have a ton of safety nets in place to catch struggling kids and to help them stay on task and finish school. It’s not a good look for schools when their students don’t graduate, so they nudge them a little, shove them even, here and there, just enough to get them to get over the line. Some students take advantage of the resources and some don’t. The truth is, in all honesty, that you’d have to be a fucking idiot to not graduate from public high school. Kids simply have to get over themselves and put in a little effort. That’s what I did. I swallowed some pride and made moves. The best move I made was enrolling in the After-School Credit Recovery Program at Mt. View High School in El Monte. This is where I went to school. I, along with the other fuck-ups, reported to the program for one-hour every day to make up missing credits. It was easy stuff, but even then, some kids finished and some didn’t. In a matter of weeks, I was done. I got the green light from my counselor and put in the order for my cap and gown and diploma cover. I cruised through the last weeks of my senior year and made sure to stay out of trouble.
I was definitely happier knowing I would graduate, internalizing the excitement of the accomplishment. I didn’t think the ceremony would be that big of a deal, but when the day arrived and my family was in the crowd and the stadium was packed and all my peers were wearing their caps and gowns and everyone was happy and smiling and taking pictures and I walked across the stage as my name was called, well, I was overwhelmed by a massive sense of happiness and relief. It felt so good! To this day, it’s one of the most important moments of my life. My grandma was in attendance, too, so that made the day even more special. In fact, I remember her presence at the ceremony more than I do anything else. She died shortly after I graduated.
Thinking back on that time, I realize now that I was an emotional wreck during throughout my senior year. The thought of not graduating and the threat of failure weighed heavy on me. I had been carrying this weight around for some time without knowing it. I was surrounded by a lot of other bad things going on in my life, too. My grandma was sick, dying of cancer. I was working part-time and getting home pretty late, so I wasn’t eating or sleeping well. I was smoking weed and drinking heavily with the homies on the weekends. My parents were divorcing, and they were always fighting and arguing about money. They didn’t know too much about my grades and they didn’t ask. My little brother and sister were feeling the pains of the divorce. I wanted to care about school, but there was too much shit going on. To top it off, in the midst of my personal storm, the question of what I was going to do with the rest of my life was booming in my head. At seventeen-years-old, I had no idea what the hell I was going to do with my life. My future needed direction, and it needed it quickly!
There were options on the table after high school, but I knew they weren’t for me. Working shitty jobs for minimum wage, which is what I had been doing since I was twelve years old, was always going to be one. I hated all the jobs I had, so continuing down the path of minimum wage was sickening. At some point during my senior year, I asked my dad if I could join the Army. This was the military option. My dad gave me an emphatic “No!” He joined the Army when he was eighteen. He and his brothers fought in Vietnam and Korea. He wouldn’t let me join, telling me that the military was full of racism and hate towards Mexicans. I knew enough about the military to know that there was some truth to what he was saying. There were a few more options. I could join the local gang and live the life of a gangster, but I witnessed this life up close on a daily basis from the gangsters in my neighborhood. That life wasn’t me. Most of these guys ended up dead or in jail. I could name quite a few.
The other guys in my circle, the ones I kicked it with, weren’t putting too much thought into their futures after high school. Their lives were pretty much predetermined. They were going to follow the paths of their brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, getting local, blue collare jobs and sticking with them for a long time, moving up the ranks because they know a homie that knows a homie that knows a homie. They’d put in their five-days-a-week at their jobs, sometimes six, and then party hard on the weekends, and then press “repeat,” over and over and over. They were destined to become Weekend Warriors, working during the week and getting wasted on the weekends. I saw this from the older guys in our neighborhood. It could’ve been my life cycle. It was within reach and there if I wanted it.
Then there were the other kids, the ones outside of my circle, the classmates that I didn’t hang with, the smart ones. Their conversations were different. They were actually talking about their futures. I’d hear things here and there, in passing or when eavesdropping on their conversations: “What are you going to do?” “I’m going to Rio Hondo.” “You?” “I’m going to Rio Hondo, too.” I kept hearing these words over and over. “Rio Hondo.” “Rio Hondo.” “Rio Hondo.” “What is Rio Hondo?” I wondered. I did a little digging and quickly found that Rio Hondo was our local community college. It was located on the edge of Whittier, close to South El Monte, very close to my neighborhood. In fact, it was only about two-miles from my house, but it might as well have been on the other side of the planet. Up until I heard the words “Rio Hondo,” I had no idea it existed, which, now that I’m writing this, is a pretty depressing truth.
In the final weeks of school, the talk of Rio Hondo intensified. At one point, someone even asked me what I was going to do. The question caught me off guard, but to save myself from embarrassment, I quickly blurted out, “I’m going to Rio Hondo.” It was a pretty stupid thing to say, and I felt stupid saying it, but I only said it because I was copying what these other fuckers were saying. My counselors had never mentioned the words “college” or “university” to me. I’m sure they never thought I’d go. None of the guys I knew from my neighborhood were in college, and none of them mentioned going. In fact, during that time in my life, I personally did not know a single person who was enrolled in a college or university.
I should’ve known at least a little about community college. My father earned his Associate of Arts Degree (A.A.) from East Los Angeles Community College, but not even my dad mentioned college to me. One day, years later, after I had already earned an M.A. in English and had been a teacher for about five-years, my dad said to me at a family gathering, “You know, mijo, I thought you were going to be a fuck up.” It was kind of harsh to hear that, especially in front of my girlfriend. I let out an uncomfortable laugh, but as I think about that moment, I can’t really blame my dad for feeling that way. I had been a fuck up for a good portion of my high school years. Anyway, as it was, at seventeen-years-old, I was on my own to figure out this college thing, and without knowing how painful and demoralizing the journey was going to be, I set my sights on it.
Three weeks after graduating from high school, I was enrolled in a full-load of classes at the Rio Hondo. The semester was to start in September. I turned eighteen in August. I had heard someone say that being “independent” was good for college, so I asked my parents to stop claiming me on their taxes. As a result of my new found “independence,” most of the college costs were waived because on paper, I was poor. I was actually poor anyway, but the government likes to see that shit on paper to make sure.
Now that I was in college, I had to learn about “majors.” A major is essentially the subject or field that you choose to study during your college career. I already knew what I wanted to be. I wanted to be an architect. Ever since I was a kid, I liked drawing, and I was somewhat of a graffiti artist, as well, so I figured drawing houses and buildings would be natural for me. I enrolled in “Introduction to Residential Architecture.” I was required to purchase a drafting kit for the class. It had a lot of really cool things in it, things I didn’t yet know how to use. The rest of my course load included astronomy, Intermediate English, P.E. some other elective course. I felt pretty good about my situation, mature even, like I was in control of my life.
The first class I attended was architecture. Right away the professor asked us to draw a rectangle. I was sitting at the back of the class, as I did in high school, and I heard him say in a deep professor voice, “Draw a rectangle that is 2 ¼ in height x 3 ⅝ in length.” I froze, and sat motionless on the drafting chair, my jaw practically resting on the desk. I knew what a rectangle was, but I had absolutely no idea about those numbers to which he was referring. I knew they were called fractions, but that’s it. I had no clue as to how they worked or what they meant. I was horrible at math. Ironically, my dad was a math god! He majored in math in college. He did all that crazy trig and calculus stuff. I remember once, when I was in second grade, I asked him for help with my math. He tried explaining things to me, but I simply could not understand what he was trying to explain to me. I tried with all my mental capacity, but it was just way too abstract for my brain. He then exploded, yelling at me and asking me how and why I could not understand. It was pretty scary. He had little patience with me, and as a result, I never again asked him for help with math. Instead, I simply avoided the entire subject. Now, as a young adult, math came back to bite me in the ass, leaving me stunned at my drafting table, absolutely helpless against drawing a rectangle with a ruler. I didn’t even know what the lines on the ruler meant. Needless to say, my being an architecture major lasted exactly two-minutes. I still have the drafting kit somewhere in the garage.
This was my first college failure. It was immediate, and it hurt. I felt ashamed for being stupid at math. I felt stupid in general. I went through the motions in my other classes. I attended all of them, except the rectangle class. In fact, I rarely missed school. I loved going! If my car broke down, I would ride my bike, and if my bike had a flat, I would walk. Sometimes, as I walked to school, people that were in my classes would pass me by but they wouldn’t stop to give me a ride. I’d say, “Fuck you” in my mind and carry on. I rarely missed a day because I liked being at school. I was failing my classes, but I liked being around people, and there were a lot of pretty girls in my classes, and I was getting something out of it. I was absorbing knowledge and I was even participating and sharing my thoughts on an array of topics. Nevertheless, at the end of the semester, my report card had five F’s on it. I even failed P.E. It was a horrible start, but as always, the drugs and alcohol with the homies soothed the pain.
The spring semester offered a chance to get things right. This time I enrolled in basic math, basic English, baseball, swimming, and Intro to Philosophy. I was back at it with another full load of classes and a more positive outlook. My car had broken down, so I was walking or riding my bike to school. Extra motivation came from my trying out for the baseball team. I had played all my life, and I was good! Some things, however, stayed the same. I was still smoking weed and hanging with the homies on weekends. I got a lot of shit from them for going to college. “Look at this little bitch school boy,” they would say to me. “Fuckin’ vato has a backpack like a little bitch!” It was the same shit all the time with these guys, but I ignored the noise. I kept at. I would say to them, “How can I soar like an eagle when I’m surround by a bunch of fucking turkeys?” It’s still one of my favorite lines.
As long as I was student, I was always going to take shit from my friends, whether I liked it or not. The only way to escape it was to move away, but that would difficult. We always posted up at Mando’s pad. It was our ‘hood’s epicenter. He had a pool table and an older brother that could buy us beer. We’d get wasted there, sometimes for two days straight. We’d cap on each other late into the morning, drink up and smoke, and then hit up our favorite taco truck on Durfee Ave. On one night, I was getting ready to ride back home when I realized my bike had two flat tires. I was furious because it was my only mode of transportation, and the flats meant that I’d have to walk to school. I didn’t have money to buy new tubes, so I knew I was screwed for a while. For about a month I walked everywhere. Then on another drunken night, Mando brought up the time when they let the air out of my tires so I wouldn’t ride home drunk. I had been walking for weeks, and all my tires needed was air. Turkeys!
I really wanted to do well in the spring semester. I wanted to prove to myself that I belonged in college. After a few weeks, though, my focus began to fade. There were too many distractions. My parents were officially divorced, but we were all still living under the same roof because my dad didn’t want to leave my mom the house, and my mom didn’t have the money to rent an apartment. Even after the divorce, the fighting was intense, and there was a lot of yelling and screaming. It was affecting my brother and sister, too. There was barely any communication in our house, and if there was, it certainly wasn’t healthy. We were living with two people that hated one another and there was no way out.
Nobody asked me how I was doing. I kept my head down. I went to work and school. On weekends, I was still getting fucked up with the homies. It was a tough time. To make matters worse, at mid-semester, I was hit by a car on campus, and my bike was destroyed. Luckily, I came out of it relatively unscathed. I did get $2000, out of it, which gave me enough to fix my 1964 VW Bug. I again had a car. That was a major plus. In the end, however, I was still relatively directionless, and college was proving to be a difficult endeavor. With a few weeks to go before the end of the spring semester, I had four F’s and an A in baseball. Things were looking bleak. Then I was cut from the baseball team. I felt out of sync with the world, spiraling further and further away from a purpose, further from myself. The outlook was bleak. Then, out of the blue, I ran into Freddy.
Freddy was a kid I knew from my old neighborhood in Rosemead. We went to Elementary and Junior High School together. Before running into him at Rio Hondo, I hadn’t seen him since the eighth grade because we headed to different high schools. “What’s up, Freddy? How you been?” I asked. He had his backpack on and was wearing glasses. He looked like a veteran of the junior college scene. “I’m good,” he said. “I’m just taking classes and trying to get out of here. How are you doing? How are your classes?” He didn’t know better in asking me that. “To be honest, I’m not doing good. I’m failing every single class,” I answered. “I failed the first semester, too,” I added. To my surprise, Freddy didn’t flinch. There was no judgmental look. Instead, he said, “You need to see a counselor.” “What?” I said. “They have counselors in college?” “Yeah!” Freddy said. “You go right through those doors.” He pointed at the main building. He said, “Just go in there and tell them you want to make an appointment to see a counselor. “Dude, thanks, Freddy! I appreciate it,” I said. “I’ll see later.” I walked over the main building and made an appointment with a counselor. Following Freddy’s ended up being one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.
A few days later, I was in the main building, meeting with a counselor. I remember her being young and pretty. We sat in her office and she pulled up my transcript. It was embarrassing but I had to sit through it. She gave it a quick glance and said, “Ok. Let’s see. Wrong class. Wrong class. Wrong class. Wrong class. Mark, you’re taking all the wrong classes!” She pulled out a sheet and placed it in front of me. With the end of a pen, she started tapping at the list of classes on the paper. “You need to take this class, and this class, and this class, and this class!” Essentially, what she did was map out my entire college pathway, giving me a GPS to help me navigate my way out of Rio Hondo and into a university. I can’t emphasize enough how much this moment changed the trajectory of my life. It was a massive game changer, and from that point on, I was on my way!
The first thing I had to do was change my major. I decided that I was going to tap into my strengths and major in Journalism or English. I should’ve made this move a lot sooner, as reading and writing were my two strongest skills. Since second grade, at Duff Elementary in Rosemead, I had been labeled a “gifted reader,” reading two grade levels higher than my classmates. By the time I was in sixth grade, I was reading at the high school senior level. I absolutely loved reading. As a young reader, I devoured everything by Donald J. Sobol, the author of the Encyclopedia Brown series. Oh, man, if you didn’t read his stories as a kid, I feel sorry for you! Encyclopedia Brown was this neighborhood kid detective that went around solving crimes that went down in his ‘hood. For example, if some kid’s skateboard got stolen or some other kid got her pet goose stolen, they go to Encyclopedia Brown for help. He’d then ask the kids a bunch of detective questions and then he’d set out to solve the crime, and he always solved it! The cool thing, though, was that in order for the reader to find out how he solved the crime, you’d have to go to the back of the book to read about the details and the clues involved in the case and how Encyclopedia Brown figured it out.. It was awesome! I never cheated, either. I never went to the back of the book until I had read the story. My teachers would call other schools or libraries to find me the books I hadn’t yet read by Sobol. They were so good to me. My elementary years were the best years I ever had in school.
It helped that I come from a family of readers. At my grandma’s house, where my immediate family lived for a long time, the bathroom was known as “The Library,” and this was because everyone read while taking a dump. We all did. My grandpa loved to read, too, which is where I think I got my love for reading. He would spend hours in his room, in his recliner, reading Spanish politics magazines like “Tiempo” and “Siempre.” I’d lay on his bed while he read, and I’d ask him about what he was reading. I didn’t understand but he took the time to explain to me what was happening in Mexico. My dad, too, would sit on the throne for what seemed hours, reading the paper, and on Sundays, he practically read the entire Sunday Edition of the Los Angeles Times while sitting on the toilet. It was actually gross because he would leave the door open. Don’t ask me why. We were lucky we had two bathrooms. I read, too, and sometimes, if I didn’t have a book or magazine, I’d read the ingredients on the back of the toothpaste: hydroxide, calcium hydrogen phosphates, silica and hydroxyapatite. I’d do my best to pronounce the words correctly. Sometimes I would take a dictionary with me and read it as if it were a regular book, reading words from A to Z.
With a confidence boost from my counselor, I was ready for year two. My new course load included English 101, Philosophy 101, Intro to Psychology, Astronomy, and a remedial math class (again). This time I was really determined to get my act together. I felt somewhat invigorated and eager to prove to myself that I could earn a college degree. Weeks into it, things were moving smoothly. I was on top of all my work and passing my classes and playing baseball for a team outside of school. I had a decent job, too, unloading trucks at UPS. I had a little cash on hand. Life was finally pretty good, but then things took another interesting turn, this time for the better.
I had submitted an essay assignment in English class. I can’t recall the topic, but I do remember the professor calling me up to her desk during class. It was a small classroom and so anything that was said was heard by all. I stood beside the professor. She was seated. She had my essay on the desk so both of us could read from it. “Do you know what this word means?” she asked as her finger smoothed over the word on the paper. “Yes, it means _______.” I answered. “Do you know what this word means?” “Yes, it means ________.” “What about this word? Do you know what it means?” “Yes,” I said. “It means _________.” I then realized what she was doing. She was testing me because she thought I had plagiarized the paper. After defining all the words she asked, she looked up at me and said, “You know, you’re a really good writer. You should write for the school newspaper. You should go to their office.” I said, “Thanks,” and went back to my seat. My heart was pounding, as I was immensely proud of myself. It felt really good to be praised for something other than sports. I actually took her advice and floated all the way to the office of The El Paisano, Rio Hondo’s school newspaper.
I submitted a sample to Larry Knuth, the paper’s advisor. I was quickly made part of the staff. Larry gave me the school politics beat. The very first article I wrote ended up on the front page of the paper, the main story. At the end of the year, I was awarded First Place as the best writer in the California Community College Journalism Association Competition. I still have the plaque at home, my most cherished trophy of all.
So now my days consisted of school, heading to the El Paisano headquarters, working at UPS, and playing baseball on the weekends. School was going surprisingly well, except for math, which continued to confuse the hell out of me no matter how much help I received. I failed math three times, and it proved to be a major setback. In order to get to the math class I would need to transfer to a university, I had to pass the prerequisite math class, the one needed to jump into the transferable class. I could not pass it, and little did I know that colleges allow you three chances to pass it. If you don’t, you must take a year off math before trying again. A whole year!
Life was pretty good, and this short string of good fortune coincided with my mom finally finding an apartment. At the same time, my dad was in the process of purchasing a newly built home in Temecula, a startup town about an hour and half southeast of Los Angeles. It was at this time that my siblings and I had decisions to make. Which parent do we go with? For my brother and sister, it was an easy choice. They were going with my mom. I wanted to do the same, I really did, but I ended up choosing to move to Temecula with my dad. It’s not what I wanted to do, but I found myself feeling sorry for my dad because none of us wanted to go with him and I knew he’d be alone out there. It wasn’t a good reason, but it’s what I chose.
One day, a few months before we moved to Temecula (my mom and siblings were already gone), I was stuck in my room. Literally stuck. I couldn’t move. I was plastered to my mattress on the floor. My dad called me to breakfast. It took all I had in me to pull myself up and walk to the kitchen. We were both in our underwear at the kitchen table. It was a Sunday and he made menudo for us. I’m sure he sensed my sadness. I was hunched over my bowl and I didn’t say a word. “What’s wrong, mijo?” he asked. I was glad he asked. “I miss my mom,” I said. I was immediately sobbing into my menudo. I felt incredibly sad and empty. My dad got up to give me a hug. He wasn’t too affectionate with us, so for him to do that meant a lot. “Go call her, mijo. Go call her right now.” I got up from the table and back to my room. I plumped onto my mattress and tried to calm myself down before calling her. I was crying before my mom picked up. “Mom, I miss you! I miss you!” I could barely get the words out, but I kept saying them over and over! “ I miss you, mom! I miss you!” “It’s ok, mijo! It’s ok. I’m here!” and she was crying and she was saying she missed me and were both crying hysterically and everything was fucked up because we weren’t together and I hated fucking life and I hated Temecula and I wanted things to get back to normal because fuck all of this.
I felt much better after speaking with my mom. Hearing her voice and all the love it carried with it put me in a better place and bought me time, both emotionally and mentally, to deal with the loneliness I was feeling.
Temecula sucked! I think my dad and I were the only Mexicans in town. Every summer day was over 100 degrees. It was desolate place back then. However, looking back on that time, being there did actually give me a clean start. I was out of the ‘hood. I didn’t know a soul in Temecula. I had a lot of time on my hands, as my dad kept working in Los Angeles and made the three-hour round trip drive five days a week. I had no job and no transportation. I walked everywhere and jogged about six miles a day. I kept in shape, read, played the guitar, and wrote. But I was incredibly lonely. I missed my mom immensely, so much that it hurt the pit of my stomach.
After months of looking, I finally found a job. I became a security guard at a construction site. I guarded plywood and 2×4’s from 5:00 p.m. to midnight. It was a horrible job that required absolutely no skills whatsoever, but I got paid to do it, so I wasn’t complaining too much. No one ever showed up to steal the wood, so it was a really quiet and lonely job. I’m not sure how long I lasted at the job, but I know I wasn’t there long before I quit.
It was 1993 and Temecula was growing rapidly. There was new home construction throughout the town, including a spot down the street from where we lived. Back in L.A. I was able to get a little experience in construction by working with a couple of friends that started working in the business right out of high school. Armed with the little experience I had, I went over to the site to ask for a job. The guy in charge said he didn’t have anything. I went back a few weeks later and asked again, but still nothing. Then I went back a third time and the boss asked me to show up the next day. I did. He gave me a hammer and a tool belt with nails and asked me to climb the second story of one of the homes. It was scary up there. My job was to nail metal brackets to secure 2×4’s to the frames. I started on a Monday. I took Thursday off and showed up on Friday. “What happened to you yesterday?” the boss asked. “Oh, I had to run some errands and take care of stuff for my dad,” I answered. I lied. “I saw you ride away.” Our home was visible from the site and so I guess he saw me take off on my bike. “Look, man,” I began. “I gotta quit,” I said. I was feeling really frustrated and annoyed. It wasn’t anything the boss was saying or even his attitude. He was pretty calm. I was upset at my own situation. “I’m no wetback, man. You have me on the second story of these homes hammering braces for five bucks an hour. I have no insurance. I’m no wetback, man. I speak English!” The words kept coming. “Well, I could get anyone to do the job,” he said. “I know you can,” I said. “But I ain’t doing that shit for five bucks an hour. Sorry.” He didn’t fight me on it. Instead, he wrote a check for the hours I worked. I thanked him for giving me a job and went on my way. It was to be the last job I held in Temecula.
It was at around this time that my brother Juan called me to tell me that he had received an offer from our cousin Edward. Edward had asked my brother if he wanted to move into his apartment in Fullerton. He encouraged Juan to move in and to attend Fullerton Community College. My brother passed on the offer, but my heart was on fire when Juan told me about this. It was the offer I needed in my life at that time. I called my Ed immediately. “Hey, what’s up, Ed!” I said. I don’t think he knew why I was calling. I told Ed that Juan had mentioned the offer. I then asked if he would extend the offer to me since my brother had passed on it. Ed seemed hesitant. I know why. I was pretty much from the streets. Ed knew some of my friends. Ed and the guys he hung with were complete opposites. Ed worried about my influence, but I knew me. I knew I needed a chance and I wasn’t going to squander it. Eventually, Ed said “Yes.” I couldn’t leave Temecula fast enough. I said “Bye” to my dad. He was happy for me. He wanted to see me go and do things.
I slept on Ed’s couch for the first six months. The apartment was roach infested. Sometimes I’d wake up with baby roaches in my ears. It was gross, but I endured. Finally, one of our roommates moved out and I was able to share a room with a kid named Carlos. He was from East Los. I attended Fullerton Community College where I finally passed the math classes I needed. I transferred to California State University Fullerton where I earned a B.A. in English. I then went onto the English Program at California State University Los Angeles where I earned an M.A.
If you’re ever feeling that it’s too late to improve your life, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. I didn’t receive my B.A. until I was twenty-eight years old. You simply have put your head down and go for it!
I had a lot of help throughout my academic journey. I needed it. None of what I accomplished could have been done alone. Throughout the process, I never gave up, even when I was shot at, held at gunpoint, incarcerated in L.A. County Jail (twice), jumped by about fourteen guys at a party, and involved in several other fights, and doing drugs with the homies. I always got up! It was not easy, but I never stopped. Even at Ed’s it was still somewhat tough. I ate spaghetti with grated cheese almost every night until I found a job. I couldn’t afford sauce, so it was simply pasta with a bit of parmesan cheese on top. It was so good! I rode my bike everywhere, too. Some things didn’t change.
In the end, my cousin Edward and my extended family saved my life. One of the things I’m most proud of is my willingness to ask for and accept help. I took it whenever and wherever it was available. The pride that often times prevents us from asking and accepting help must be swallowed. It must. The help I received allowed me to keep my eyes on the prize. I knew a college degree was going to improve the quality of my life. It has and it continues to do so. This much is true: If I did it, anyone can do it. Accept the help you’re offered and never give up.