In my five years at East Los Angeles College, I have heard the school be called a multitude of names: "Ghetto," "High School Part II," "Whittier University" and my personal favorite, "Taco Tech."
Yet, the name I know it as is: "The School of Second Chances."
It's here at ELAC that I have been able to put part of my life back on track, figure out what I want from the world, how I'm going to get it and go after it.
If five years seems like a long time to be at ELAC, then call me an old man because that's how I feel in some of my classes. There are moments when I find myself in a class full of 19 and 20 year olds talking about how wasted they got the night before as I take a sip from my ritual morning coffee.
I give them an inquisitive look and reminisce to days of future past when I was doing the same, enjoying life to its fullest and not giving a fuck about the consequences.
I decided to enroll at ELAC after I spent three years working dead end jobs which included selling hot dogs, fruits and raspados in a cart, working at a recycling center and being an all around bum.
I first started by going to school part-time in the evenings, while working during the day. I started out by taking two or three classes at a time to let me get into the flow of things again, since sitting in front of a desk again was a cold splash of water.
In those evening classes I met others like me, who needed a second chance at higher education to better not only their lives, but the lives of their families.
I missed a semester in spring of 2007 and waited for the fall so I could focus on being a full time student, working on the weekends. I focused on school rather than work because I realized that I would never get anywhere.
It was a dead end path and I had the luxury to focus on school because of the breaks I would catch here and there from friends and family.
There are other students at ELAC that don't have those same luxuries I do and I never let myself forget that. We all take different paths in our lives and in East Los Angeles, those paths intersect and are rebuilt at ELAC.
I'm not the first student to learn to appreciate the school and I won't be the last because this epiphany didn't happen over night, it took five years. In that time I have had some of the best teachers around who have challenged and prepared me for the next level.
I have met former Huskies from almost every decade that tell me how the school was in there time and all the crazy shit that went on.
The same teachers that influenced them are still there influencing the next generation. Those are the teachers that are hard to find unless you know about them ahead of time. Those are the teachers who have come from schools like ELAC and want to give back and help students the way someone did for them in their day.
It takes a lot of drive and want to make it through any college nowadays because of the budget cut backs and increase in registration fees. It's not going to get any easier anytime soon either, but we all have to persevere, no matter what obstacles come our way.
It may have taken me five years to earn an Associates Degree and transfer out to Cal State Northridge, but it was worth it. It's all worth it because I know I am making my parents proud.
Their mijo, the first in the family to graduate from high school and go to a university, as if taken from a scene from "Mi Familia."
There's always going to be criticism about ELAC one way or another, for whatever reason, but those of us who have had the pleasure of being part of the Husky family know better.
ELAC may not be the best school in the world, but like us, it's doing the best it can with what it has ala Jaime Escalante: ?íHechandole ganas!