WCC English Department Faces of Success

Eduardo Ramirez, WCC English Program graduate
The instruction and mentorship I received in WCC’s English program has been pivotal in facilitating my academic success and in shaping my intellectual pursuits. I graduated with an A.A. in English in the spring of 2009 and transferred to Sacramento State, and graduated in the fall of 2011 with a B.A. double-major in English and Ethnic Studies. As a first generation Chicano student navigating through institutions of higher learning, I have trekked unfamiliar terrain. And as my own educational trajectory attests, I almost didn’t make it.

Eduardo RamirezThroughout K-12, standardized tests branded me the “at-risk” student. I always had more than one English class because I was “behind” in reading. I was the slowest reader. Teachers would often test me reading aloud. Each time, I held the book and started reading: the letters jumped out from the page and punched my eyes; the sentences sprung from the page, coiled around my neck like a snake. At each mispronunciation, the snake tightened more and more; it was chocking me. My vision blurred; I started to reread and skip lines. My eyes stung. The snake tightened, killing my self-esteem and asphyxiating my motivation. My English teachers consistently reminded me of my low reading proficiency. This developed a reticence in me. But despite everything I had internalized, I was never disinclined to think—and hence never lost my ability to write, an ability my teachers too often did not recognize and develop.

After high school, I was a critical and analytical thinker who had a lot to express–to write–and I didn’t even know it. But my first English professor at WCC, Prof. Strode, did. And she helped me acknowledge it. It wasn’t easy, since I had to fight against the labels that I had carried with me in K-12—with the experiences that alienated me from true education. But I was finally able to believe in myself and to recognize that I belong in higher education. Each English professor welcomed me with an invitation to expand my reading and writing. They became aware of my capacities and helped me build upon them. WCC has provided me not only with an academic preparation that allowed me to write and excel across the curriculum; it has provided me with life-long mentors who will continue to support me in my academic development as I transition into graduate school. My accomplishments have been and will continue to be a concerted effort between my family, my community, and my mentors. And extending and protecting the opportunities I received to others so they, too, can have access to the transformative power of higher education is a responsibility I share with everyone.

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Melissa Apodaca, WCC English Program graduate
Melissa ApodacaBeing on unsure footing about the direction I was heading when I first enrolled at WCC, I made my first class schedule based simply on my interests. When it came down to it, two of the four classes I chose were English classes. It didn’t take much thought from there to choose English as my major because I love to read, I love to write, and most of all, I love to think.

I’d like to say that I have a very specific career in mind that I am actively pursuing, but in truth, I still have no idea what it is exactly that I’d like to do. Generally speaking, I would like to become possibly an editor, a professor, a writer, or a lawyer. While all are pretty different, I think they could all benefit from the springboard that is the subject of English. Ultimately my career goal is to do something that is ever changing, challenging, and most of all, creative.

In the English classes that I have taken, the things that have helped me the most were the people around me. While committing the time and the effort to the classes was essential, the resources of people were invaluable; whether in the form of the Writing and Math Center, to the guidance and feedback from the professors, or the work-shopping and input of my peers. The attention and advice from other minds helped to clarify my misunderstandings, broaden my perspectives, and bolster my confidence.

Staying motivated in my education is fairly easy for me, mostly I think because I always try to maintain the most positive perspective. I am a learned serial optimist. First of all, it is absolutely not a race, and I would say that it’s not really even a marathon. It is more like a series of marathons as the semesters go on. Patience and perseverance are key–you have to try and try again. And when you get knocked down (and you will) you have to get back up and keep moving. But at the finish line, you’ll never feel a greater sense of accomplishment, because your education is the one thing in this life that can never-never-be taken away. And that is something that I do not take lightly. I know that this is worth every moment of frustration, the rewards are so much greater than the cost, and that reassures me in my drive to succeed. Stay positive and “Just keep swimming!”

For anyone who is curious about reading, writing, thinking, expressing, analyzing, dreaming, believing… I guess for anyone who is just curious about anything and everything at all, I’d say to dive in to the refreshing ocean of English! No matter what you do in life, let’s face it, you NEED to know how to read, how to write, and how to think! I can’t think of anything more important to a person’s success in ANYTHING without these essential skills. English as a major will teach you these things (whether you think you already know them or not) and it will fascinate and challenge you along the way. It will take you outside your comfort zone and take you to a place you never knew you never knew. I can’t tell you how much pursuing my degree in English has changed my life but I can tell you that it is definitely worth the ride!

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An English Degree Can Translate Into Opportunity

Melissa Withnell, WCC English Program
Melissa WithnellI can still remember that feeling. It was like treading water in the deep end of the community pool. Everybody’s swimming laps, back and forth, back and forth, getting faster with each lap. And there I was treading water, growing tired and bored to tears, fearful of eventually sinking to the bottom. My nine to fiver was sucking the life out of me. Every day was a carbon copy of the day before and I grew to loathe it. That was when my brother encouraged me to go back to school. I was 26-years-old and I hadn’t stepped foot into a classroom since I was seventeen. I had no clue just what the hell I was trying to do, but I enrolled in school anyway, unsure of what I wanted, but wanting so desperately to discover it. My first class happened to be English 1A with Professor Theresa Schmits. The day she walked into the classroom and into my life, everything changed. A light switch had been flipped on within. I discovered the power in written word and as I dug deeper into literary power, I began to discover myself. Literature was rarely encouraged in my household growing up, and as an adult, I have to make a conscience effort to block time out to change the literary-less routine that I grew up accustomed to. I have to break the cycle. I’m still not the fastest reader in the classroom. In fact, in a room of students, asked to sit and read piece of fiction, I’d most likely be the last person to lift my head from the paper. But I can tell you, that most of the time, I feel as though I’m the first person to express the feeling in the words that I’ve read. Just because it takes me a little longer, doesn’t mean that I can’t put as much power down in the classroom. Many people are led to writing through reading. I was led to reading through writing. And I can honestly say with total abandonment of doubt that education, literature, and writing have saved my life and saved my soul. They took me out of that swimming pool and tossed me a life jacket. I’ve been swimming in the ocean ever since. The water can get rough out here from time to time, but that’s okay, because I never want to go back to treading water in that swimming pool deep end again.

The art of written word is powerful. When encouraged and nurtured, it allows us to organize our thoughts in a manner of clarity so that our message—our voice—is conveyed as we intend it to be received—so that it’s taken seriously. So that our word reach others with the “Bam!” and the “Pow!” that our thoughts deserve. The greatest thing that one can possess are their thoughts combined the freedom and ability to express them. That’s what writing allows us to do. That’s what reading encourages us to feel. That’s what I want to do with my life. I want to help others find their life jackets. I want to encourage them to leave their “Bam!” on the world, just as the English Program at Woodland Community College has done for me. But mostly, I want to stand in front of a classroom and learn from them. I want to keep growing.

If you’re considering an education with an emphasis on the literary arts, and if I could leave anything with you, it would be this: give yourself to your education, fully. Stay up when you want to sleep, beat your essays up, let them push you out of your comfort zone. Leave it all in the classroom. Raise your hand and speak even if you’re afraid of sounding like a fool. It’s the fools that grow, anyway, and in a sense, that’s what we’re all here trying to do. So change. Change your habits, break the cycle, sweat, and allow yourself to grow. And if a time should come that you feel like throwing in the towel. That it all feels too much and out of your reach… Stop and think about Alice. Alice was terrified of that Jabberwocky, but she took her sword and she slayed it, anyway. Imagine how dreadful tea time in Wonderland would be, if the Red Queen succeeded in taking the bonkers out of everyone’s tea. It’s your turn to slay the Jabberwocky. Do it.

Considering Majoring in English? Check out these articles:
An English Degree Can Translate Into Opportunity