During the month of June 2018, I enrolled as a student at Mt. Hood Community College. I was filled with great excitement and ambition of the new opportunity. Yet, I was also overcome with fear and anxiety as I had been a 15-year-old first-generation college student with no high school diploma, no GED, and in fact, only one year of experience in high school.

I stepped onto the college campus wearing my casual clothing that I wore in high school (this will make more sense later). Despite appearing confident on the outside, I was deeply confused and unsure of where to begin my college journey. I decided to visit every office until I had all of my questions answered and a clear path to my goal of graduation. Along this journey, I met many kind and avid people that supported and helped me turn my goals and dreams into reality.

One of the many people that I came across was the advisor for the student government at the college, someone who was passionate about providing students with different opportunities and resources to make the most out of their college education and experience. This advisor connected me to the student government program and convinced me to apply. A few weeks later, I interviewed for and was hired as the academic affairs representative for the team. All of a sudden, I went from being a traditional high school student, to being a full-time college student working in the institution’s student government.

As part of my position, I worked with different stakeholders at the college to better improve the academic system. In addition, I spent lots of time advocating for and spreading the reaches of Open Education Resources as part of my team’s focus on increasing access to student basic needs. All of this work was very eye-opening for me, and also caused me to quickly grow from my young immature self into a working college student focusing on creating a better and more accessible academic system. I went from wearing casual clothes to wearing dress shirts and ties!

Throughout the last few months of my first year in college, I was pushed by many of my peers to run for presidency of the student government for the upcoming fiscal year. Feeling confident in my leadership ability and knowledge due to the amazing advisors and teachers I had the privilege of meeting, I threw my name into the ring — the ring being a voter pamphlet — for presidency. I later won the election and was named the youngest student body president in the college’s history. Then I went from wearing dress shirts and ties to suits and tuxedos.

During my presidential term, I decided to put even greater focus on student basic needs through increasing capacity within the food pantry that the student government ran. Moreover, I continued my work of spreading open educational resources and other student-supporting resource programs. This work showed me my passion of helping support others through their educational journey and also the importance of creating equitable strides in academia. My term later ended during the beginning months of the pandemic.

I now write this blog during my final year of both high school and community college. I currently work as a part-time office assistant at the college, am a full-time student, and also serve on different councils and committees such as the Student Leadership Advisory Council at The Hope Center.

This journey built me to be the leader I now am today and instilled a passion in me to help create a more student-focused and supportive academic system. I learned that one way to create a difference is by sharing your story, because stories can change minds which can alter policy. With alterations in policy, positive impacts can be made to many students’ lives during their time in college, and after.

Now I tell my story my story today because I am here to show living proof of the new generation of college students. I am here to say that not all college students look like the people that you see in media culture and on the local channel news. I am here to say that lots of students don’t receive financial support for their college education. And most importantly, I am here to say that times have changed, our economy has changed, and most of all our college system has changed, so we need to create change in our support systems for such college students. If all factors change, but one does not, there will be a gap. In our case, a gap contributing to social inequities, severe rates of student homelessness, and much more. To end, I would like to share the motto that my community college uses. The motto is “be your dream.” Let us all work together and bridge this gap, allowing students to be their dream.

Collin-Kazu Lewis (he/him/his) is a student, college staff member, and Student Leadership Advisory Council member at The Hope Center. He is currently finishing a degree in science from Mt. Hood Community College as part of his pre-med track, and his high school diploma through his early college program through Metro East Web Academy. He can be contacted at kazulewis21@gmail.com.