Alam Chandranegara is a Northwest Community College Initiative student studying business at Pierce College. Here he describes his recent experience advocating for community college education in Olympia, Washington’s state capital.
At the beginning of February, the student government team and about 20 students from Pierce College Fort Steilacoom went to The State Capitol in Olympia to join 300 students from community and technical colleges across Washington State. I was one of them. We gathered there to meet with legislators to address common community college issues. We wanted to speak about our opinions on issues including tuition costs, textbooks prices, and higher education funding cuts. This civil rally is an annual event. We wanted to remind legislators that students are the future of Washington State and community and technical colleges are the places to create Washington’s better future. Furthermore, education is a priority. As the signs we brought said, “We are Washington’s future” and “Don’t cut the solution.”
This was my first experience participating in this kind of political activity. I was excited that, as an international student, I could participate in this student legislative rally to meet legislators. We do not have annual rallies like this in my country, Indonesia. I was very fortunate to be able to participate in this event, because I enriched my perspective and my understanding about the U.S. government system, education system, and met and shared stories with other students from other colleges.
When we arrived in Olympia we gathered at the lobby of the State Capital. We sat on the stairs with dozens of other students. While waiting for the event to start, I saw enthusiasm and excitement on students’ faces. Their hope and positivity filled the whole room. You could feel that energy, the energy of optimism to reach a brighter future in the air. The event started with one of the speaker greeting us with, “Students, how are you? Let me hear your voices!” Then all the students made a lot of loud noise. But the speaker teased us by saying, “I can’t hear you!” This time students were even louder. It was so loud that we could feel the building shaking and the chandelier in the middle of the room started to swing little bit because the resonance of our voices. It was amazing and I felt lucky to be there.
The speakers for this event were senators, representatives, and student representatives from colleges. The speakers gave speeches about the importance of providing affordable education, including affordable textbooks, to the community to build a brighter future for Washington. Everybody is entitled to have affordable education and the right to have education has to be protected.
Students also had the opportunity to share stories at a podium outside the building. Even though the temperature was cold, 38 degrees Fahrenheit, students were still excited to tell their stories. They all had incredibly moving and inspiring stories. They came from different backgrounds and they had overcome many difficulties to go to college. There was a student who, as a single parent, had to have three jobs to support her education. Another student said that she came from an abusive home, with a drug addicted, single parent; but somehow she managed to go to college with her own money. She did that because she wants a better life for herself and her little sister. If the tuition goes up, she will have to give up attending college. Moreover, many students shared that they were the first generation of their families to go to college, so for them education is a luxury.
One thing I learned is that no matter how hard their lives had been, I still could see their optimism and enthusiasm to reach brighter future. Some people give up to hardship and difficulties, but others refuse to give up and fight back with hard work and positive attitudes. This was a very valuable experience for me because I learned so many things. I learned about civil participation in the government system in the United States, working together with other students, and I learned that we all have difficulties in our own way. But the thing that differs us from others is how we handle and overcome the difficulties and turn it into energy that drives us to go forward.