Why I Am Endlessly Grateful for my Unconventional Journey to UCLA

Ever since the fourth grade, I knew I wanted to go to UCLA. It was my dream school. In light of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I have been reflecting on myself and how thankful I am for not only achieving this dream, but also for the journey I took to get here.

Most people go to four-year universities straight out of high school or transfer from a community college. I did something a little different from that.

I worked hard in high school to maintain my grades, but I still struggled in my difficult courses. (I’m looking at you, AP Calculus and AP Biology.) I also failed to nurture my mental health. My self-esteem was at an all-time low, and I did not feel confident enough in myself to even apply to UCLA. I applied to a few Cal State universities, but I wanted to go as far away from home as possible to avoid how I felt. Since then, I have learned it is not always a great idea to run away from problems; instead, it is best to face them in order to find peace within yourself.

I chose to go to California State University, East Bay in the Bay Area. This was five hours north of my hometown, and I thought it would be a perfect place to start over. In the end though, I was even more confused. I did not even know what I wanted to major in anymore.

Even though going to Cal State East Bay left me confused about my own desires, it was still an experience that I will never forget. I was in a liberal city, which was such a refreshing change from my conservative hometown. On top of that, I was surrounded by diverse groups of people from varying backgrounds, another contrast to the placeI had grown up. I made some amazing friends that I love, and we got to explore the Bay Area every weekend. It was a great experience because that was pretty much the most travelling I had ever done at that point in my life.

I made some unforgettable memories in the Bay, but ultimately, I decided to move back home because I did not want to continue spending money on school while I was lost in my direction. I went to community college, where tuition was free for me. With my world view a little broader, this opportunity felt like a second chance to get into UCLA.

Moving back home also meant I got closer to my family. I moved in with my Oma (grandmother), and was able to to spend a significant amount of time with her before she passed away. This is something I am infinitely grateful for. I want to continue to make her proud even though she is not here anymore.

I got two jobs, one of which was as a server in a restaurant. Working in that restaurant was arduous, demanding and just straight-up hard. I always had people yelling at me about something, and I felt like I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off to keep my managers and my tables happy. It seemed like I always had to prove myself to someone. Nonetheless, it taught me incredible patience and management in high-pressure situations. The job also requires wild amounts of teamwork, so I gained some of the best friends that I have ever had.

The other job I was juggling was being a musical instructor, but I loved that job so dearly. Working with high school students is often an unpredictable yet rewarding experience. I got to work with high schoolers who were passionate about music, and it gave me the chance to self-reflect. 

Between going to school full-time and working about 40 hours a week, I chose to join my community college’s newspaper. This was another great experience where I learned everything I know about journalism. My passion for journalism still persists to this day, and it could not exist without this newspaper. 

Overall, I learned a lot about time management and about myself. I earned a 4.0 GPA and an acceptance to UCLA. Many events led up to this moment, but I am so thankful that they all happened. I am sure my Oma and my fourth-grade self would be so proud of me!