College is challenging, and I do not need to recount the events of 2020 to show how they have emphasized the barriers our students face. How we face those challenges indicate something of ourselves. Therefore, when Marco responded to my first text to him with a smiley face in the midst of everything happening, I had an inkling that he would be one student to keep an eye on. That notion was confirmed when he told me, over text, that Highline College dropped him from his classes for not paying his tuition.
This was unexpected for him, to say the least. Marco had done everything expected of him as a student. He enrolled early during the summer, and his financial aid would cover the cost of his classes, as it had in previous quarters. Even with the coming virtual quarter, he had already studied remotely the previous quarter, so he had not anticipated any difficulty with his classes. He tried to get in touch with financial aid and contacted advising to see what he could do. Further complications prevented him from paying out of pocket and by the time a financial aid officer got back to him, he was unable to re-enroll.
We scheduled a call to figure out what, if anything, we could do. From the news, I had expected Marco to be disappointed and prepared myself accordingly. To my surprise, he picked up the phone and greeted me cheerfully. He was bright and attentive throughout the meeting and cracked a joke here and there. When the hour we had planned for was over, he thanked me for my support. If nothing else, he explained, he was glad someone was in his corner.
I continued to check in on him over the next few weeks. Marco consistently replied with a cheerful tone and a few emojis over text. We set up a meeting, this time through Zoom, and he greeted me with a polite smile and the same cheer he had shown that first time. He was frustrated, of course, and took a walk to cool down before our meeting but bounced right back into it. We discussed winter registration, whom he needed to contact in the college, and still he showed the same cheer and optimism that had become so rare throughout the year. He would register for classes as early as possible, while working and saving up money to make sure he could pay for next quarter.
An obstacle out of his control had slowed him down, yes, but to him there was no reason to stop. Whatever came he would handle it as best as he could, in order to achieve his goals and aspirations.
I have seen Marco face his challenges with a persistent sense of cheer and a smile. I have come to see at least a little of who he is as a student. His way is not to bend in the face of great challenges, neither is it to persist stubbornly regardless of the situation. He is a young man who has learned to be flexible in a difficult time and has found the grit and humor to smile through it. While I did not come into my year of service expecting it to be easy, I had not thought to come at it with a smile, as Marco did. In that case, it should not be too late to start now.
This story was written by Max Ramawy, a returning AmeriCorps college coach at College Possible Washington. Interested in doing a year of service like Max? Become an AmeriCorps member with College Possible!