By: Michael Tran, Associate Governmental Program Analyst, California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office
May is Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, a month-long celebration that pays tribute to the generations of Asian-Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history and who have been and continue to be instrumental in its success. As we honor the trailblazers who came before us who worked to create opportunities for the generations who have come after them, now is the time to continue their work and take charge of your success and your future. California’s community colleges can help you get there—I am one of the countless examples of folks that prove that.
As a first-generation Vietnamese American growing up in Oakland and Richmond, I recall seeing and feeling how much my refugee parents struggled to support our family. Although my parents knew that achieving a college education was key to obtaining financial stability for our future, due to their limited proficiency in English, they were not able to provide the academic support and advocacy we needed during our K-12 years. Like many children of immigrant parents, we were on our own.
After barely graduating high school, I felt the need to become financially independent immediately because I didn’t want to be a burden on my parents. I enrolled at a private, for-profit college during the dot-com boom because they promised to help their students earn high wages in only 18-months rather than the two to four years required at a public college. However, soon after completing my associate degree in computer technology and accumulating considerable student loan debt, the dot-com boom went bust and I was unable to find employment because the few employers that were still hiring required a bachelor’s degree—something I did not have.
Fortunately, an old friend suggested that I check out Laney College, my local California community college, as a stepping-stone to obtaining my bachelor’s degree, which would open more doors and opportunities. To my surprise, when I enrolled at Laney College, most of the credits I earned at the for-profit college could not be transferred. It was at this point that I had to make a tough decision—give up on pursuing my bachelor’s degree or start my educational journey over. I chose to start over, and as it turns out, making the conscious choice to start fresh at Laney College was the best decision I ever made. Laney College provided me with the guidance and support that enabled me to thrive academically for the first time in my life.
Getting high scores and good grades was not even the most transformational experience I had at Laney College. My personal, educational, and career trajectory changed when I took my first Ethnic Studies course. For the first time in an academic setting, I learned about the diversity within the AANHPI community, delving into the struggles, contributions, and history of my community, and finding solidarity with other racial and ethnic groups. It was empowering and life changing. I also met amazing people like Richard Aoki, the Japanese American co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, who went from being a Laney College guest to becoming my mentor. With his support, the guidance of Laney College faculty, and the encouragement of my fellow students, I graduated from Laney College and transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Ethnic Studies.
Today I am a proud employee of the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. I serve the people in my community by supporting the different equity efforts led by the California Community Colleges, the largest higher education system in the country. I know that knowledge and achieving a higher education is the key to success because I lived it. It opened doors for me, and it can open doors for you, too.
No matter where you are in life — a high school student or recent graduate, a parent, a professional seeking a new career, a refugee, an immigrant, or have been formerly incarcerated, it is never too late start. And the best place to start is at your local community college.
Let a California community college set you on your path to success, whatever that may look like. On behalf of the California Community Colleges, we look forward to meeting you where you are and are excited to support you across the finish line. Learn more and enroll at one of our 116 colleges today by visiting ICanGoToCollege.com.