My immigrant story: from community college to Harvard

My immigrant story: from community college to Harvard

My name is Gillian – I am a first generation college student and I will be attending Harvard for my Master’s this Fall. Without community college, I would not be where I am today.

My parents never attended college; my mom didn’t even go to high school. My parents believed in the importance of education, so they prioritized us getting a good quality education while living in Ghana. In 2008, I got the opportunity to move to the U.S.

I was so excited to enroll at De Anza Community College—even filling out financial aid forms was thrilling because it meant that I was going to college! Attending college was not easy for me because I enrolled in full-time courses while working full-time in order to support myself and family in Ghana. I enrolled in three different community colleges to find classes that would fit my work schedule. In addition, I couldn’t afford to drop a class because that would mean paying back the much needed financial aid. These challenges only motivated me to study harder.

Like many other young immigrants, my parents encouraged me to study a hard science so I could get a good job. During my community college experience, though, I found that getting a degree is not just about getting a good job, but also finding my passion. I transferred to Portland State University to study economics. My desire to help and make an impact in people’s lives led me to volunteer to assist immigrant students with their homework. Attending community college gave me the opportunity to explore different majors and also boost my confidence. I also volunteered at Portland Community College as a supply chain advisor. This experience strengthened my interest in using technology to help underprivileged students improve their educational experience.

This is the reason why my Master’s in Education will focus on Technology, Innovation and Education.

Nothing I’ve accomplished would have been possible without community college. If my only option had been a more expensive four-year school, I may never have gotten a degree. The affordability of community college made it possible for me to go to Harvard, despite the many challenges I faced. I’m glad I got financial aid while attending community college in California. I believe that money should not be a roadblock for students when it comes to obtaining a college degree.

That’s why I support the movement for free community college. The College Promise Campaign is working across the country to build support for free community college programs, so that millions of students like me can receive an education. You can make this possible by donating to the College Promise Campaign here.

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