I knew there was just something about this place when the freeway exit screamed “CAL POLY” both on the green rectangular sign and on the actual street, the left-hand turn off the freeway exit onto Grand Avenue, which led up the hill lined with cute but college-y houses to the campus Mom practically had to force me to visit for the first time back in April 2014.
“It’s very…. agricultural.” That was all I’d heard about Cal Poly up until that point. “OOOH! There’s a really cool farmers market every week,” a friend who knew me well (clearly) and had visited San Luis Obispo once before pointed out when she noticed my apprehension to a “very agricultural” school. Okay, it wasn’t just that. I was a senior in high school, dating my first love and not wanting to live 3+ hours away from him, fearing what a whole handful of changes would bring to the comfortable life built for me in quaint little Chino Hills, California.
Much to my own surprise, I accepted my admission 24 hours after my first visit. What can I say? I fall in love fast and hard. Cal Poly showed me everything I wanted to see that day, every quality I looked for in a school, so I couldn’t say no. Six months later, single and ten times more terrified of more changes ahead of me, Mom, Dad, and I packed up the car and drove into my future. Little did I know, this was just beginning of the best decision I’d ever make.
I spent my freshman year falling even more madly in love with Cal Poly and the surrounding community of San Luis Obispo. Just beginning the journalism major, I wasn’t taking any stressful classes, so I devoted the rest of my time to working at a local vegan place called “Bliss Wholesome Cafe”. It was here that my inner extrovert burst through its shell and introduced itself ever so boldly to the outside world, and I liked that newfound personality of mine. However, the vegan cheesecake I’d nibble on throughout my shift was not the highlight of my freshman year. After several phone calls home almost drown out with tears, I finally found friends I felt connected to within minutes of our introduction, and these girls eventually became best friends (they still are!) and roommates.
Sophomore year… well, unlike my freshman year, this one was challenging. I remember walking back to my dorm at 6 PM twice a week, after my journalism class on race, sex, gender, discrimination, and basically everything wrong with today’s, feeling discouraged, confused, hopeless, and disgusted. I questioned whether I wanted to continue studying journalism, and within a couple days, I was sitting in my advisor’s office preparing to switch into the nutrition major. Throughout the rest of the school year, I’d sit in chemistry classes, intro to nutrition classes, and some not-so-friendly professors’ offices crying (again?) because chemistry just doesn’t make sense but it needs to so that I can switch majors and actually study my passion and aahhhhh!
But, hey, I got through that. I survived. I made it into the nutrition major and began my junior year with a bang - four classes including organic chemistry and a part-time job. Vivid memories of long weekdays at school followed by nights of non-stop studying, broken up with weekends spent working at a local donut shop and spending quality time with friends whenever possible. Organic chemistry was just the first of many challenging, but intriguing nutrition courses, the ones that assured me with a heavy pat on the back that I was in the right place. My junior year finished smoothly, like the swift and elegant twist of the knife as the final touch of icing the cake.
As academically draining as my senior year was, it was the best cake I’ve ever sunk my teeth into. If I thought the organic chemistry class started my junior year with a bang, this new metabolism class was about to revolutionize my idea of the bang. On the edge of my seat in class everyday, with a 3 PM latte pumping through my blood, I’ve never felt more engaged and fascinated by a topic. Not only that, my professor - Dr. Scott Reaves - is a legend. The next round of classes barged in and stayed for a while - all 17 units of anatomy, genetics, foodservice management, and metabolism 2. Anyone looking for me during those 3 months usually found me in a coffee shop studying on the weekends, and in class or labs during the week. I did love it, though. Oh, and I fell in love with a boy. More on that to come.
During the summer between my senior and “super-senior” years, I waved goodbye to 7 out of 8 of my best friends who all graduated and moved on from SLO. I sat in my new house, uncomfortable because it didn’t feel “home-y” and terrified because I didn’t know if it or anything else would ever again. I wanted expectations and hope for the upcoming year, but I had none and I hated that. And remember that part about falling in love? Well, I had to fall out, and it hurt like hell. Like when you’re pulling a tray of fresh-baked cookies from the oven and suddenly realize, while holding the scorching hot tray, that there’s a hole in your oven mitt. For the first time in years, I felt hurt, empty, and scared.
My best friend, Grace, and I set out to tackle this new life in SLO - her as a post-grad working for a local collegiate baseball team - and me as a “super-senior” with ants in my pants anticipating graduation, 2 quarters late. We had no idea what was to come.
Trying to make new friends, adjust to a changed lifestyle and classes I didn’t love, wake up at 4 AM for work, and all the while make it through a 5th year of school brings me here. I got through it. I survived. I worked my butt off. I fell in love and still am. I graduated. Grace and I built each other up and developed our rock-hard friendship. And now I’m left to continue writing my own definition of me, sans the word “student”.