Changing Lives, Transforming Communities
The tnAchieves Blog

Right Thing To Do - Esther Ro
May 27, 2021

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Education was a core value in my family, an essential factor to cultivate a fruitful life. Going to college was never a question of “if,” but rather “where” and “for what.”

I declared my major would be violin performance in second grade. My parents kindly encouraged me to reconsider, but I maintained a rather stubborn stance until my junior year of high school when I finally acknowledged that I probably (definitely) did not spend enough time practicing to be a professional musician. I was at a loss for an alternate career path, but college remained an unwavering part of the plan.

At my STEM-focused magnet high school in Orange County, California, bright minds and ambitious spirits surrounded me. My peers and I loaded our schedules with AP courses, sacrificed sleep to make straight A’s and participated in as many extracurricular activities as we could juggle, all with the hope of ultimately attending one of the top-ranked state colleges or perhaps even an Ivy League institution. There were countless days when I would be on campus for over 15 hours, running from class to class to orchestra rehearsal to photograph an assigned theater production or sporting event for the yearbook.

During my senior year I felt anxious because I had not chosen a specific field of interest, but I trusted that college would reveal the answer. As I researched my options, Boston University’s public relations program caught my eye and guided me one step closer to my future. I stuffed my life into two suitcases and flew 3,000 miles away from home to a city I had only explored through history books, tingling with nervous excitement and great anticipation.

My first semester of college was somehow overwhelming and disappointing at the same time. The challenges of my lived reality tempered my lofty expectations, and I grew anxious again, as I sensed that a career in public relations would not be a satisfying path for me. I changed my major to journalism, which placed me in classes I enjoyed and introduced me to people and opportunities that expanded my knowledge, technical experience and self-confidence. I also acquired a work-study job at an inner-city preschool where I read stories and led literacy enrichment games two days a week. Even though these four-year-olds left me exhausted at the end of the day, they filled me with joy and I was proud to engage in the work of increasing equity in education.

Fast-forward to my last month of college. I was stressed because I had not been able to secure my post-graduation plans. I had been interning at Boston University’s online news publication for the past semester, so I asked the editor-in-chief if he would be willing to extend my commitment even though I would no longer be a student. He said yes and approved a pay raise because I now had a bachelor’s degree! I would make barely enough income to cover rent and groceries, but I figured I could take on freelance photography projects and other random gigs while I continued searching for something more stable.

I kept up the hustle for about two years until it burned me out. I moved back in with my parents and worked at a bakery while I reevaluated my career goals. I wondered, “If this was how my life was going to end up, was college even worth it?” I had honest doubts. Meanwhile, my best friend from college had moved to Memphis to become a teacher. She said, “You should come!” I responded, “Okay!” So I narrowed my job search to openings in yet another city I had never visited, and I was offered a position similar to my college work-study job, only with elementary school students rather than preschoolers. This job then led me here to tnAchieves, where I have the privilege of guiding students to and through college as they discover and develop their own passions.

Although it took some finessing and I am not working in a field directly related to my major, I use the communications and critical thinking skills I learned in college every day. Despite my earlier qualms, I am confident that I would not be where I am or who I am without these experiences. College was – and is – the right thing to do!