The Heart of It All: A Returning College Student's Experience

By Ryan Diminick / Staff Writer

I remember the first time I walked through RVCC’s halls. It was Fall 2006. I was 20 and beginning what I thought was a sure thing. I was pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice, with the goal of potentially becoming a state trooper. Or a local patrolman. Or NYPD. Needless to say, I really had no clear path of where I was headed. All I knew was that college was what I needed in order to get somewhere in life. That’s what I was told. I finished out that semester with two A’s and a B+. At the time, this was astonishing, given how I dedicated more of my time to the finer things in life: friends, family, a relationship.

I did not return to the classroom the following spring. I didn’t have enough money to come back, and decided I was going to save up for the following fall semester. It was during this time that something interesting happened. The pitfalls of the early 20s took hold of me, causing me to focus on more important things. Making money, finding a better job, and moving out on my own gradually took precedence over continuing my education. In addition, I realized my goals in law enforcement were starting to fade away. I realized the system was not as black and white as I had originally perceived, and knew that was not a world I wanted to become involved in.

My 20s continued on. I worked a few different jobs, the most relevant being a truck driver for a local garbage company. Working there, I made enough money to get my own apartment in Flemington. I had nights and weekends available to do as I pleased. Life was great. Then the next chapter of my life began, one that would further add to the cyclical nature that life truly is. Sitting in a bar at 23 years of age, I began to question whether or not this was it. Was life just about going to work, going home to an empty apartment, and spending time with friends while chasing away my issues with alcohol?

The very thought of it caused feelings of unease. It was at this time I decided to begin chasing a former dream of mine: acting. I began to participate in community theater, performing in as much as I could. I even tried going professional, but that’s for another time. Through these experiences, I met a lot of people who were more educated than I was. Coming from a family where I was the first to attempt college, I had always felt like an outsider around those with higher education.

Despite this, going back to college had still not entered my mind. Although the years preceding this were filled with thoughts of my return, I had finally found something I loved and believed I could succeed in. The universe, however, had a different plan for me.

At 26, I was arrested for a DUI. While the cuffs were being put on, I went through the typical emotions. Embarrassment, anger and denial hit me in a heartbeat. But one thought pushed through all of that and took center stage. I thanked God for what happened. Subconsciously, I knew I was on a slow downward spiral, and it was time to stop.

This major event in my life was shortly followed by two more. I met a woman who would ultimately become my girlfriend. We’ve been dating ever since. Also, I reached the conclusion that it was finally time to return to the classroom. After all, if I could deal with the daily realities of trying to jump start an acting career, surely I could make it somewhere else.

That’s when I finally re-applied to RVCC. Deciding to pursue a degree in Communications, I knew this was going to be my next chapter. And the rest is history. I am now in my final semester here, and I have to say, coming back was quite possibly the best decision I have ever made.

The decisions we make have a way of affecting us in ways we could never imagine. I remember sitting in the study area next to the library on my first day back. Sitting in one of the comfortable armchairs, I reflected the six and a half years that had passed since I last exited those doors as a student. It was a defining moment for me, one I hadn’t expected to happen. But I knew I was about to embark on something special.

The feelings I would come to develop toward this school did not manifest overnight. It ultimately took time. That first semester back, in the Spring of 2013, proved to be a re-introduction back into college life. Now pursuing an associate’s degree in Communications, I was off to a fresh start. That initial semester in 2006 was not wasted, however. All of my credits were able to transfer over, so I was already underway.

I learned a lot in that first semester. In Speech, I learned that public speaking was not the same as acting on a stage. I had initially gone into that class with an air of confidence, figuring it would be a piece of cake. I came to find out that the two forms of presentation were completely different. They say when you graduate college and go out into the real world, you have to unlearn everything you know. Well, I came to experience that truth, only going in the opposite direction.

In English II, I was able to hone my writing skills in an academic manner, relearning the proper rules of grammar and structure. I also experienced the appreciation in developing well-rounded essays, a particular aspect I hadn’t cared for so much before. In Interpersonal Communication, I got my first taste into the different theories surrounding my area of study, and also wrote my first paper built from scholarly research.

Intro to Sociology rounded out the rest of that first semester, and gave me a broader idea into the interdependent nature of society. Before that, I gladly attributed all of my prior success to myself. Upon taking that class, however, I came to realize my life, and everything that came with it, was a product of the actions of everyone around me. I realized I was a part of a big machine. Since then, I have dedicated myself to becoming not just a successful individual for my own personal happiness, but also one who realizes the responsibility we all have to making this world a better place.

The following semesters have built upon this new foundation. The theories covered in Intro to Communication Theory, for example, have reshaped how I view myself. For example, I’ll explore Cognitive Dissonance Theory, or CDT. CDT explores the belief systems we come to possess through our own experiences, and how our beliefs influence how we perceive the world around us and the information we take in. This theory blew my mind, as it explained why I behaved the way I did. Up to that point, I had a belief system that was limited to certain standards, a lot of them unhealthy. CDT taught me that I was rejecting particular information simply because it clashed with how I perceived things. Once I came to understand that, I have opened myself up to retrieving information and accepting it in a way I never had before. To me, Comm Theory was just as interesting as Intro to Psychology, another class that helped me to understand the inner workings of the human condition.

Comm Theory also helped me to become a little more creative in my writing. I was able to expand my ideas in the form of certain essays, one for which I was nominated Nota Bene. That essay, that award, made me realize writing was the right avenue for me. That moment showed me I was headed in the right direction, providing me with that sigh of relief for which I had been waiting for so long.

Intro to Mass Communication was the next stepping stone for me. After the first day of class, I had already narrowed my future prospects down into the media field. To what extent, I wasn’t sure. I’m still not. But just that narrowing down is a big help when trying to decide how you want your future to turn out. Ultimately, that’s what I have found the heart of the college experience to be: a journey of self-discovery.

We all begin college with the intent of pursuing an education in a particular field we hope that will make us happy, while also gaining us our own American Dream. I’ve heard the American Dream is dead. I don’t believe that. I believe that, in order to obtain it, we first have to figure out exactly what It is. My college experience has helped me to in that respect.

In one of my first essays written at RVCC, back when I was 20, I used the phrase “personal evolution.” I didn’t realize just how much that would play a theme in my subconscious throughout the following decade. Because of my time here, I have learned more about myself than during any other time in my life. I have figured out, in a basic sense, where I want to go and who I want to be.

Once upon a time, I was just a fresh-faced kid who looked up into the stars at night and believed that anything was possible. Anyone who believes this knows the likelihood of the idea being challenge every day. But through dedication, and a strong sense of belief, anyone can achieve their goals. For me, going back to school, and this school in particular, helped me to believe in that dream once again.

Thank you for your time. Good luck to you all as you discover your own stories.

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The Record is Raritan Valley Community College's independent online student newspaper. The Record provides a medium for information on all things related to the college community as well as an outlet for students to practice writing skills. The mission of The Record is to encourage student involvement in campus activities and publicize matters of concern to the college community.
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