That Time I Was on Academic Probation

  Photo by Darren Bradley

Photo by Darren Bradley

After an amazing senior year in high school, I was excited to transition into college life. I had a 4.26 GPA, I passed a couple of AP tests, and I'd happily be commuting from my parents home (aka free KBBQ hollaaaa).

I was smart, I believed that I'd succeed, and gosh darnit people liked me. Besides, if I ever got bored or needed help, I could just meet up with my friends who were also staying local... right?

But not too long after I started college, I discovered that I was not invincible — in fact, I was very vulnerable.

I'll never forget my very first day of college, it kinda looked like this...

...except about 3x larger and bustling with "ready-to-prove-their-worth" students.

I sat in the very back right corner of the lecture hall — not because I thought I was cool, but because I had arrived to class 30 minutes late due to making a wrong exit off the freeway. By the time I took out my pen and paper, the professor was already deep into her first lesson on the basics of computer science. 

"Wait, what? We're already starting to learn? What happened to just loosely going over the syllabus and doing silly icebreakers...."

An hour and a half later, I walked out of that lecture hall feeling sooo lost. Though it was only the first class, I couldn't help but already feel defeated.

Long story short, I decided to change my major. I figured the best way to get over my horrid start was to begin anew with a fresh one. Besides, it's not like I was passionate about comp-sci; that was just the default major I listed in my application (shoulder shrug).

ARTS — yes, that's it, I'll do artsy stuff. It only made complete sense that I should study what I've loved doing all of my life. My mastery of doodling Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will finally come in handy!!

However, I quickly realized that I would not be learning how to properly shade Michelangelo's nunchucks. Instead, I was memorizing dates of Michelangelo's paintings (yeah, the real Michelangelo).

That was History of Art, which was before Calculus and after the ever-so-repulsive Culture Art and Technology course (what was that course about? I still have no clue).

Faster than I could pronounce the names of my foreign art teachers, I was in deep doo doo. I received notification that I was placed on Academic Probation.

The following quarter I'd be learning about Film Noir, Computing in the Arts, and some bullshit course called Political Inquiry. WHY DO I NEED TO LEARN ABOUT POLITICAL STATISTICS IF ALL I WANT TO DO IS DRAW SPLINTER KICKING SHREDDER IN THE FACE!?!

And so, it continued...

Look!! It even says "Continued"!!

And then, predictably, this happened....

I wish "Disqual" was a fancy synonym for "recovery", but alas it isn't.

At that moment, to say that I was feeling effed would've been an understatement.

I never told my family about it, because I was scared of the consequences (duh)... and, more importantly, I didn't want to let them down.

Even though I was hanging on the fringes, I wasn't kicked out just yet. I still had a small pocket of breath left in me, and I held onto it as long as I could.


Something I hadn't mentioned yet is that my social life was sooooper imbalanced. During random nights and weekends I would hang out with my friends or go to parties and laugh like a clown with ants in his pants, but on campus I was the polar opposite (just imagine a lifeless, murky pond... in pudgy human form).

Commuting from home was supposed to be a blessing, but it turned out to be the biggest deterrent to campus happiness. It was very difficult for me to get involved with school activities; my classes were spread out just enough to prohibit me from committing to anything in between them (think 9am, 2:15pm, a lab at 4pm, then a long film class from 7 to 10pm). Plus, I was driving 2-2.5 hours roundtrip from home.

Excuses, excuses... I know. But, luckily, sometimes all it takes to turn things around is one friend, and I found that friend at a very opportune time.


I first met Alex while waiting in front of a locked door. Turned out that he, too, was waiting for the same reason — we were both submitting portfolios in hopes of being accepted into a major within the arts department. There was a cap on the number of students that could be admitted, and the portfolio review was a new process... so we were the guinea pigs. Naturally, the lifeless, murky pond in pudgy human form thought this was stupid.

"Hey..."

"...hey"

I'm 99% sure those were our first words to each other, and that's all it took. Highly intelligent and inquisitive bitching ensued, as Alex and I both questioned the structure of such an idiotic process. I had met a handful of cool new friends before that day, but on that day Alex became my first cool new homie.

It's not like Alex and I spent every on-campus minute together, but we'd see each other a few times during the week either in the lab/classroom or for lunch. Alex wasn't just a cool friend; he also happened to be the psychological boost that I desperately needed in order to bounce back mentally and academically.


By the time my second year came around, I was living closer to campus in an apartment with my best friends from high school, which helped immensely. Screwing up and learning all the little things in life was scary, but so worth it. Gradually as time went by, I was able to take classes that were not pre-requisites and before I knew it, I was thriving and was in good standing (take that, Disqual!!).

But more importantly for me, my mind was in a good place and I was finally having a good time.  

Fast forward 4 years to graduation day. Even with the blazing sun beating down on my thick, black robe, I closed my eyes and thought back to my first year...

You know those track and field athletes who get hurt before the end of the race? They collapse horrifically on the ground in anguish, but instead of giving up and sprawling on the side, they get the fuck up and finish the race anyways. First place is long gone, but finishing the race still makes them feel like a champion.

That's exactly how I felt that day.

I write about this experience to remind everyone that life is always moving. We all have our obstacles, but as long as we keep trying our best, we can work towards making things right. Optimism is helpful, but ultimately it's action that causes change, and that can only happen with concerted effort. 

Thanks to my family, roommates / best friends, Alex, Stacy, film buddies in VIS 176, and everyone else who helped along the way during my college years.