Letter home — Words of Wisdom: ‘Learn to be strong’

Justine Chang, Class of 2013

While the students from SoCal were going through culture shock at the sight of cluttered urban streets and hobos on Telegraph Avenue, I was sitting on the infamous steps of UC Berkeley’s Sproul Hall asking myself cliché questions I never thought I’d say in a million years: “Who am I?” “Who can I trust?” “What do I believe in?”

College throws together thousands of people from many different walks of life. Nearly all my friends are from a privileged background.  More than half of their parents make too much money to qualify for financial aid and I am among the very few that have to work in addition to being a full-time student.

I felt different coming from a low-income school that’s not considered that smart on the API scale (sorry Bear Creek, let’s be honest).  Even though my scores and extracurriculars were considered good back home, they were pitiful compared to everyone else’s.  I felt like I was worthless. Everyone was into drinking, smoking, and doing drugs; when they profusely offered me some and I refused, they’d give me a look and say that I’m “not down.”

Everything I thought grounded me was thrown up into the air.  My friends couldn’t relate to my financial problems, I felt extremely dumb for the first time ever, and my moral values were challenged.  I was once the outgoing and motivated girl in high school, but I turned into a quiet student who never raised her hand in class and left as soon as section was over.

Has it hit you yet?

Right now, you’re caught up in a world filled with school rallies, turning in homework worksheets on time, and eating dinner with your family after soccer practice. Right now, you’re still a kid checking your watch every ten minutes to see when you can grow up and get out of that hellhole called Stockton. But before graduation knocks on your door and your post-high school plans finally become reality, I urge you to make sure you “check yourself before you wreck yourself.”  Know where you’re at.  Know who you are.  Question the things you’ve never questioned before because now is the time to stop focusing on the cute boy or girl in class and begin asking what you want to do with your life.  I was trained to be tenaciously independent since I was five years old.  I thought I knew what I was doing.  I didn’t.

You must learn how to be strong.  Don’t be strong for anyone else but yourself because the choices you make are yours.  They belong to you and you alone.  Whatever you choose to do, you must live with the consequences of your actions.  No more mom and dad.  No more teachers to act like babysitters.

The truth is, all people care about in college is how smart you are; so if you’re not doing your best in school, you might want to rethink your decisions. Saying “I’m smart but I just don’t try hard” is no longer an excuse.  If you’re okay with a minimum wage job and a cycle of poverty for the rest of your life, then this entire letter is not for you.  But if you’ve seen your parents struggle to raise you and you know you want a life that makes you and the people you love proud, then maybe it’s time to make a change in your life.

No matter where you come from, no matter what you’ve done and no matter how impossible you think your  highest dreams may be, there is one message of empowerment I wish to leave you with:

“Every shot you don’t take is one you automatically lose.”