How College Helped Me Find My Voice

Growing up, I was never outspoken. When I was really little, maybe four or five, I hid behind my mother’s legs and whispered in her ear the responses to questions people had gently asked me. In elementary school, I stood shyly alongside my sister and let her speak for me. When my sister and I no longer went to the same school, I spent a lot of time in silence. I talked to my friends and my teacher but never really went out of my way to speak to anyone and shied away from talking with new acquaintances. 

In high school, I made the decision to enroll in the Running Start Program. This meant taking the credits for my last two years of high school at a local community college. This changed everything for me.

I know that sounds cheesy. I know it sounds like an exaggeration. It’s not.

Taking college courses forced me to open my mind and by extension, my mouth.

For the first time in my life, I was being challenged not just academically, but socially. Going to that community college wasn’t just like going to a new school. The people were older, had more experience, and were less inclined to make friends. 

Primary education is largely a social endeavor. You attend school with kids you have known pretty much your whole life. You spend six hours a day with them in a classroom, and then head to volleyball, tennis, or any other extra-curricular activity afterwards. You spend so much time with these people that it is almost inevitable that you will make at least one friend.

In college, this is not the case. People are there to get their education and get out. You spend 50 minutes to an hour in a classroom with 60 other people a few times a week. Sometimes you have assigned discussions but the conversation is mediated. Making friends isn’t impossible but it isn’t a climate that forces friendships.

Additionally, college instructors are not in the habit of forcing you to participate in discussion. If you have an idea you want to share, you better raise your hand and project your voice across the lecture hall. 

In college, it was all on me. I had to step up and find my voice. So that’s what I did.

Over the course of those two years, I learned to raise my hand and share my ideas, even at the risk of being wrong. I learned to lead discussions with my peers. I learned to initiate group work. I learned to introduce myself to strangers. I learned to have my own opinion, to value it, and even to share it. I learned to question what others thought. I learned to question what I thought. I learned to develop relationships with professionals. I learned to ask for what I needed to be successful. I learned how to have a voice.  

Some people may accredit this to just being part of growing up and while that is part of it, I cannot say that I would have learned to speak for myself without the environment that college has and continues to provide me with.