Photo:Julie Leopo/EdSource

Los Angeles City College is trash.

That’s all I heard growing up. Friends told me LA City College was a school for old people. Because it has an open campus, we all knew that homeless people used the bathrooms and hung out at the library.

Guess where I ended up?

I grew up on the border of MacArthur Park and Koreatown in Los Angeles. And even though LA City College is a mere 2.4 miles away, everyone I knew who planned to attend community college set their sights on Santa Monica College. The campus is near the beach. Sunshine. Surf. Fresh salt air. Plus, Santa Monica is the number one transfer school to University of California and California State universities.

LA City College rests in East Hollywood. Busy, dirty streets. Crowded buses. The air tastes like car exhaust fumes. The surrounding neighborhood is too much like the one I grew up in. The same one I still live in with my parents and two brothers, 28 and 20. There are two liquor stores within a block of our family home; people drink openly in public, some until they pass out. The streets hardly feel safe at night.

So when I graduated from Miguel Contreras High School in downtown LA in 2015, LA City College was hardly on my mind. Going to a four-year college was always my plan. I put that pressure on myself, partly because I would be the first in my family to graduate from college.

The vision of graduating from a four-year college finally became realistic when I received my acceptance letter from California State University, Dominguez Hills. I was ready to be a Toro.

But then, I made a fateful decision. I was offered an opportunity to work with my older brother as a camp counselor in Vermont. I had never been on an airplane; or lived outside of LA. My brother told me that I could earn $2,000. Without hesitation, I chose money over college.

The Green Mountain State is a beautiful place. I’m a city kid, so seeing big trees and wide open skies was new to me. The first time I walked in the woods was in Vermont. But now I had no plans beyond Vermont.

I returned to Los Angeles with zero direction.

Cal State Dominguez Hills was off the table; my offer had been rescinded because I had skipped freshman orientation to be in Vermont.

I did nothing for the next couple of months. Played video games by day. Hung out with friends at night. I blew my $2,000 mostly on fast food and clothes. The whole time, though, the pressure of wanting to return to a four-year college weighed on my mind. I knew I had to make the effort and my path had to begin at a community college. That’s all I could afford.

My first choice was Santa Monica College. Until I realized the commute meant riding the bus for an hour each way, each day. LA City College, on the other hand, was only a 30-minute bus ride each way.

Guess where I ended up?

My six semesters at LA City College sailed by. I liked my professors and learned a lot in class. My grades were mostly Bs and Cs. My final fall semester was the most difficult. The only class I really worried about was statistics. It was my second time taking that class, so I didn’t want to slack off.

That’s when my mom got sick.

Her heart was filling up with blood clots, her doctor told us. More than one valve was failing.

I remember seeing her swollen ankles. The sounds of her tapping her chest repeatedly, trying to relieve the pain she felt deep in her chest. She did not sleep well.

I did my best to focus on school. But I lost that battle often knowing my mom was in serious trouble.

She ended up bed-ridden at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital; a 10-minute walk from LA City College. The day my mom was admitted was when I realized I wouldn’t have known what to do had I been attending school in Dominguez Hills or Santa Monica.

I probably would’ve chosen to be at my mom’s side over attending class.

At first, my choice to attend LA City College was about convenience. But my ultimate reward was much greater than that. I made close friends at LA City College. I transferred out with a better grade-point average than I had from high school. I learned to be more independent.

I am sure some people still say bad things about LA City College. Just like they say bad things about my neighborhood.

All I can say is I am now one year away from graduating from Cal State, LA. One year away from my dream. And I wouldn’t be here without growing up where I did and going to LA City College.

•••

Kilmer Salinas is a senior at California State University Los Angeles and a member of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.

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  1. Charles Greenwood 2 months ago2 months ago

    That was beautiful! You press on and do great things. May God will bless you for taking care of your mom and I hope that life is kind to you and fruitful.

  2. Raffie 5 months ago5 months ago

    Very inspiring.

  3. Meril 5 months ago5 months ago

    Bravo to you, Kilmer. There are so many community college students with challenging stories. You made your life happen. CSULA is lucky to have as a student and LACC as an alum. This is a great story. Would you like to speak on a panel this fall about transfer students (via Zoom) for my grad students? Email me or message me on LinkedIn.

    Replies

    • Kilmer Salinas 5 months ago5 months ago

      Yes, I would love to be part of the panel. What is your email?

  4. Jeff l Pithoud 5 months ago5 months ago

    Right on!

  5. Nathalie 5 months ago5 months ago

    Thank you for sharing your story! I also went to MCLC, small world.

  6. Diego Andres 5 months ago5 months ago

    Thanks for this. LA City College has a lot to offer if you know what you’re doing. Good luck with everything.

  7. Dania Ruiz 5 months ago5 months ago

    Keep making us proud Kilmer! I wish you the best on all your future plans. You are doing great things.

  8. Michelle McDonald 5 months ago5 months ago

    Congratulations on thinking independently and making choices that are right for YOU. That’s a strong indication to me that you are mature and are on the right track!

  9. nah 5 months ago5 months ago

    LACC is trash. They have a 19% success rate. I'm pretty sure it's the lowest in the state. By way of comparison, East Los Angeles College, which has much less funding, has a 30%+ graduation rate. LACC is known for having cut-rate professors who can't speak English, several corruption scandals over the last 10 years, and hasn't produced a single noteworthy graduate in STEM during its entire existence. Sorry to be … Read More

    LACC is trash. They have a 19% success rate. I’m pretty sure it’s the lowest in the state. By way of comparison, East Los Angeles College, which has much less funding, has a 30%+ graduation rate. LACC is known for having cut-rate professors who can’t speak English, several corruption scandals over the last 10 years, and hasn’t produced a single noteworthy graduate in STEM during its entire existence. Sorry to be the one to tell you.

  10. William Barnes 5 months ago5 months ago

    When I graduated from high school in 1973, there was no question I would attend the local community college, which was Palomar Junior College. It was a great transition from high school to the next university, which happened to be UCLA. Whenever I get the chance, I suggest to my students they attend the local community college for 3 reasons: 1. The cost of community college is much less expensive than the 4-year … Read More

    When I graduated from high school in 1973, there was no question I would attend the local community college, which was Palomar Junior College. It was a great transition from high school to the next university, which happened to be UCLA. Whenever I get the chance, I suggest to my students they attend the local community college for 3 reasons:
    1. The cost of community college is much less expensive than the 4-year university.
    2. The class sizes are much smaller.
    3. The professors are teachers first and researchers, authors, and writers second.
    As a graduate of a UC (UCLA) and an attendee at a CSU (Cal State-L.A. and San Francisco State), I am most grateful to my time at the Community College level. I feel it is the most important state post secondary education system the state has to offer.

  11. Karla 5 months ago5 months ago

    Great story! Loved it!

    Replies

    • Kilmer Salinas 5 months ago5 months ago

      Thank you, Karla. It means so much hearing it from you and telling me you loved it.

  12. Randy Schultz 5 months ago5 months ago

    Good for you! Good for you for going to school and good for you for sticking up for your education. I know that your professors are happy to read this too.