I feel old! I’m only 20, but the past two years of my college life have flown by. I know how cliché that sounds, but you really have no idea how quickly everything goes. Orientation starts and then you graduate. Okay, that’s a little bit of a hyperbole (or a lot?), but you get it. Time is invaluable; it’s a limited resource with preset dedications that are out of control (Like sleeping. For the love of God, please sleep during college!). People at Wesleyan speed through college so quickly because we take up 50 things at a time. Some of us are athletes, activists, assembly members, workers on campus, dancers, artists, actors, directors, and students occasionally (maybe the last one is only me). We have four years at Wesleyan or wherever you choose to attend college, and the one piece of advice I have to give to you is to slow down.
I totally get why you want to go 1,000 miles per hour: the workforce is competitive, you want a job with a liberal arts degree, you want to impress your parents, etc. What I’m telling you is that while all of that is great, I promise you slowing down to 100 miles per hour will not destroy your life. Right now, if I had to guess how “fast” I’m going, I would have to say I am at a comfortable 150 miles per hour. I’m not worried about getting a job, but I am worried about enjoying life. The past two years of my life, I overextended myself, albeit for a good cause, but I burned myself out by the beginning of my sophomore spring semester. No doubt, I have helped create a solid team of low-income and first-generation students, as well as faculty and staff, who are pressuring the University to be better. Clearly we have had huge success in such a small time frame: a first-gen task force, a newly endowed first-gen scholarship, countless events hosted by different departments, and the beginnings of a new way to do orientation. I’m so proud of what I’ve done for my community, but I’m not happy that I missed out on the last two years of my life.
The world is pushing me to be an adult, but I’m pushing back. Yes, I will be an adult one day, and some may say I am one now, but I disagree. I’m a college student. I attend a $60K a year daycare/incubator/educational institution/whatever you want to call it. But being a part of this “daycare” allows me to explore what sets me apart from other students here.
At the beginning of this semester, I hit the brakes, and I reflected on what made me unique. I pushed myself to really question what my motivations in life were and what I was most passionate about. I challenged myself to do better not only for my community but also for myself. Needless to say, I’ve found a happy balance between activism, school, and myself. The joke among the administration in North College is that I’m not a student because I put my community above all. To some of you, that may be a waste of $60K a year. I’m throwing cash down the drain because I’m not a student first. Well, I hate to tell you, but you’re wrong.
I come from a very humble background. My parents weren’t wealthy, but they did the most they could for my three siblings and me, and they set up a path for success. “Success” to my parents meant being a doctor or a lawyer, and, reflecting on my childhood, I can see why they were trying to push me to go in that direction. Early on, I shut them down. I told them I didn’t want to be a lawyer because lawyers have to wear suits all day. Suits were uncomfortable to my seven-year-old self (I quit baseball because the pants were too itchy), and I foresaw that they were going to be uncomfortable to my 30-year-old self (I’ve been partially right so far). This may seem like a tangent, but it isn’t. I have been juggling around in my head for the longest time whether I want a career that brings me money or brings me happiness. Rest assured, I don’t find these are mutually exclusive. I learned outside of my classes that, if you really dedicate yourself to something and genuinely care about your cause, money will follow happiness. Best of both worlds!
I’ve discovered my core motivation in life is to help people. I am an activist because when I see people hurting, I feel their pain. My activist life kicked into gear when one of my friends, who I did not know was low-income, was crying one day because she couldn’t afford some extracurricular activities due to her low work-study pay and her parents’ financial status. Something clicked in my head that day: If colleges put all of the clubs, activities, sports, and classes out on pamphlets, scream to the high heavens that anything is possible for their students, but forget that some of us have to work and forego opportunities that our well-off peers have, that’s a veritable crime. They are doing a great injustice to their incoming students and are continually perpetuating a lie. My purpose on campus is to illuminate the injustice and pressure the University to change.
At this point, I could tell you how the process went and the battles the first-generation and low-income community fought together, but I’ve told it a thousand times. The base for my team’s next steps is the Wesleyan Class Confessions page started by First Class, Wesleyan’s first-generation and low-income student collective. We will continue to fight for a more inclusive and equitable university and pass on the torch to each generation, leaving it better than when we first got here.
So are classes important? No doubt. They make you a well-rounded, educated individual. They improve your articulation and make you think critically. But getting an A in a class and having a 4.0 throughout college will not guarantee you a job. What guarantees you a job is your passion. Every conversation I’ve had with future employers has been centered around what I do on campus, and I can tell you that they couldn’t care less about the economics class I took. They are most interested when I start speaking about my experiences, the battles I fought, and what I envision for Wesleyan in the future. My enthusiasm and dedication to my causes on campus came from the decision to go 150 miles per hour—not 1,000. When you slow down, really commit to something, and put your heart and soul into it, life is so much better. Choosing my community before my classes has allowed me to grow into an interesting individual who genuinely cares about what I do. It’s very dear to my heart. My piece of advice to you is to be impressive and expand your worldview. Do something, don’t just learn something!
Martinez is a member of the Class of 2017.