Sunny skies kissed palm trees as they swayed with the gentle wind. Bricks paved the ground for miles, and endless fountains ordained every part of campus. I cringed at all the cardinal and gold. Yes, the Bruin in me was conditioned to flinch at the sight of those colors. But, the onset of emotions I felt when I first stepped onto USC’s campus, the first school to send me an acceptance letter for a Master’s in Public Policy program, was caused by more than a historical university rivalry. Past the gates that contained the prestigious university, I stopped because too many questions flooded my mind. Who goes to USC? Am I supposed to be here? Can USC help me help others?
The university oozes with wealth; if you’ve seen, heard about, or experienced USC, you’ll understand what I mean. Simultaneously, its surrounding community faces rampant homelessness, gentrification, struggling public schools, drug abuse, and crime. Never would you imagine that when stepping onto USC’s campus, you are also stepping into the surrounding community that looks nothing like it. The juxtaposition of USC and Downtown Los Angeles prompted further reflection, this time about myself and my potential role within higher education.
Flashbacks of my childhood: a little girl with glasses and pigtails gets dropped off at the public library on a Saturday morning, just to read for hours on the couches with stuffed animals larger than herself. As a first-generation college student, though I loved school, I never really saw myself going down a fixed college path. Never did I imagine that my path would, figuratively and literally, lead me to USC. But, there I was, standing on a campus that was once my dream school (sorry to admit that, UCLA). As a senior in high school, at the time eager to pursue architectural engineering, USC (specifically, Viterbi School of Engineering) was beyond my dreams. Now, my “dream” school could very well be a reality.
I kept exploring, in awe. After walking deeper into the campus, I stood again, this time staring at a fountain that read, “Water is the foundation of life. Education enriches life.” Immediately, I thought about rural, agricultural communities in the California Central Valley fighting for clean water and better public schools. As I stepped through the doors of USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, I realized: though I, or students with a similar background, may not be USC’s majority, I am supposed to be there, to use a renowned education for public good. I will use my graduate degree to better the lives of those surrounding USC or those I already serve as a CSU STEM VISTA in Bakersfield, CA. Whether I decide to focus on poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, or another social issue facing too many communities of color, and whether I decide to attend USC or another institution, graduate school will help me grow not only as a person, but as an advocate. I am beyond excited for life after VISTA.