State: On How I Got Here


When I graduated high school, I was an average student with a 3.0 who only belonged to one club. So imagine my surprise when a school or three thought I fit into their mold for higher education. My confidence ascended to the high heavens, my head started to inflate, and I started thinking, More colleges will be lining up to have me. Boy, was I wrong.

I must have been in my own little world because even as I was being accepted by schools, I didn’t have any way to pay for my education. Of course, I filled out the FAFSA and applied for scholarships. It wasn’t enough. My poor time management and inability to use and understand a "fax machine" meant that I didn’t receive any awards for the first semester.

In the fall of 2011, I didn’t start college. I did, however, go into a dark period of depression. I started to picture 5-year-old me crying at the failure she would become.

It sucked. I was a sliver away of growing up and moving out of Small Town, USA, but I hadn't made it over the final hurdle. I pulled away from my friends and my family because I felt so ashamed.

By late in the next spring, I began to pick myself back up. I started working for a contracting company with my dad, and I felt useful again for the first time in months. After my first paycheck, I was on top of the world.

I worked at that company for three years before I realized that I should apply to school—even if I failed to get in anywhere, I owed it to myself to try again. So I sent in my applications and, because I thought nothing was going to come of it, pushed it to the back of my mind.

I was accepted, and this time, I didn't rely on nonexistent aid. I realized that if I really wanted an education, I had to go balls to the wall—full Katniss Everdeen, so to speak. So I did something that scared the crap out of me. I sucked up my pride and took out loans. I cried during the whole process if I’m being honest, but I’ll pay them off, even if it takes me until I'm 90.

I took what many might consider a stupid risk. I loved my job, I really did, but I wanted to see if I belonged somewhere else. That curiosity about what might happen if I quit my job and went to school was enough proof for me that I deserved to try—I deserved more.

When August and move-in day rolled around, I felt my body fill with butterflies. I was almost back to a world that I understood, a place where I could read without feeling like a sad, bargain-store version of Rory Gilmore.

I also felt sick. All freshman at my university have to live on campus, which made me nervous, but most of all, I was terrified that I was going to fail out.

I am proud to say that I didn’t.

My first semester was filled with football games, going out to the main avenue of bars, and studying. Lots and lots of studying. (My school has a reputation for partying, but it also has a reputation for its students being able to party one day and study their asses off the next. Hangover, shmangover.)

I made friends, participated in the homecoming parade, and passed the semester with a 3.3 GPA. It wasn’t phenomenal, but it was still better than when I was a high school kid.

Which leads me to a few revelations from my first semester:

  1. Being older means I get to skip straight to the best part of being an upperclassman—partying at the bars instead of a "house party" (more like apartment clustefuck) that will be shut down by the cops.
  2. Just because high school was a challenge, that doesn’t mean college has to be.
  3. No one cares about your age.

The last one took me the longest to learn, and I’m still struggling with it. But it's directly tied to the second, and to my success.

It is nice to be a little bit older in college because I am more mature than I was at 17, and I spent the years in between developing my work ethic at my job. I appreciate it more. I worked so hard to get here, so I might as well get the most out of my experience now that I've made it.

I am now well into my second semester, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic that I tackled all of those obstacles to end up where I am now: at State.

Iyesha Riley is a 22-year-old currently working on a degree in creative writing at Arizona State University. In her free time, she likes to go on spontaneous adventures, exercise, and watch movies. If she isn't hitting the books during the week, you can find her drinking water in the mornings and toasting with a "liquid marijuana" cocktail with a group of friends in the late evening.

Photo credit: Barn Images