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John’s Story: Ready to Explore

Facing College: Diverse Student Voices from Michigan State University

As told to: Jake Klok and Andrew Walker

I’m a first-generation college student, and, honestly, it was tougher to adapt than I could have thought. My family has always been highly supportive. I come from a blue-collar background where we work for everything we have. I excelled in high school and toured different colleges and finally decided to come to State. But when I got here, I felt almost . . . lost.

Just lost with all the paperwork and other details going on in the first year of college and not being able to ask my parents about it. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Am I doing this correctly?” So, I started looking around. I went to two or three counselors—my honors advisor, business college advisor, people at the Resource Center for People with Disabilities (RCPD). Eventually, I just went to them or emailed them so much that they were suggesting answers to questions I had never asked. That’s been a huge help.

Another issue was, and continues to be, the wheelchair. I have cerebral palsy. It’s like a neurological issue that affects how my brain communicates with my muscles. I’ve had it my whole life, and I was diagnosed at such a young age that I’m not super clear on all the medical jargon myself, but, basically, I was supposed to be born near Valentine’s Day, and my birthday is in mid-December. The RCPD at MSU is great. The staff are very good at their jobs. For me, it’s just a part of life, but Michigan is not a hospitable state for people in wheelchairs. Most people choose to move away from here and not towards here. It can be hard. There are times when I’ll get stuck in the snow or a battery will die. If one thing goes wrong, I know I’m I deep shit. That’s a day-derailing, week-derailing problem, since I’ve got to get this thing repaired. And that’s just physically and mentally draining. Luckily, my family is close by, so just a phone call and short drive and I know I’ll be ok, but if I lived further from them, then that kind of situation could be catastrophic.

That’s something that really weighed on me when I was deciding whether or not to do study abroad. I wanted to do a business college program in Scotland, over at St. Andrews. It was a class that looked at golf from a business perspective, because it’s a sport that comes up so often in the business world, and St. Andrews is the oldest continuous golf course in the world. I was really, really nervous, and I almost didn’t do it. What was I doing, trying to cross an ocean to where I don’t know anyone, when all it takes is me hitting a cobblestone the wrong way and my wheel getting damaged and then I’m screwed?

I was scared. Scared about being away from my family, about coming up with contingency plans in case something happened with my wheelchair. But I decided to go for it. I had help, I had support, I had all kinds of plans in place, and I went.

It was absolutely the largest leap I have ever taken in my life and I am so very glad I went. Studying abroad was my first real step towards adult life, and taking that step has made me really look forward to the future.

I’m making plans, adjusting plans. I’m thinking about graduate school, law school and then further study with a concentration in tax and information systems for accounting. For the longest time, I thought I would be a prosecutor, and then I thought, wait a minute. I’m someone who’s danced between upper and middle class, and I like money. Federal prosecutors don’t get paid that much. Plus, there’s lots of angry criminals, and when you’re the prosecutor, you’re the guy who argued for them to be put in jail. So, I thought, “Hey, maybe I ought to do something more corporate and lucrative.” So, right now I’m specializing in accounting, because if I get my CPA, then my master’s in tax accounting, and then eventually move into tax law, there’s a lot of money there.

What’s funny is that now I’m thinking about moving away for grad school, somewhere on the East Coast, maybe an Ivy League. It’s a tough decision. It would be exciting, but it would mean leaving my entire support network. Staying at Michigan State is still an option.

After that? I’ve always thought of living in either New York,Chicago, San Francisco, or one of the bigger cities. I think, ironically, as nervous as I am going out and doing any of this stuff, I’m also excited to have the opportunity. I’m always nervous that something will go wrong, but I’m pleased to have the chance to go to places I’ve never been and do things I’ve never done. I think that’s the great thing about higher education. If you get enough of it you can find a place for yourself anywhere. You could live and work in any town and any small area in any state. There are people who are happy with staying in their hometowns, and then there are always people who picture something different.

I feel like, here at MSU, we have the chance to go out and see what that something different is. And now, at this point in my life, I am so very ready to get out and explore.


This story originally appeared in Facing College: Diverse Student Voices, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

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