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Davis, California

Monday, December 5, 2022

Taking the scenic route

Thirteen years later than expected, but right on time

By KATHLEEN QUINN

As I walk across the stage to receive my undergraduate degree on June 12, I will be 34 years old. When I passed the California High School Proficiency Exam at 16, I thought I would be graduating from college a couple of years early, not 13 years late. Life has a funny way of derailing your deeply-held expectations.

Though it took a while to return to school in full force, I managed to take a class at community college here and there, even while working full-time. I slowly accumulated general education requirements until I could take the time off to pursue my undergraduate degree as the main focus.

Before arriving at UC Davis, I worked in a role that was rewarding but all-consuming. As a project coordinator for the city of Los Angeles, I worked with neighborhood councils to build capacity and increase participation in the democratic process. Through that work, I gained a deeper understanding of the barriers that exist for people trying to gain access to their representatives. Often, some of the most impactful conversations in people’s everyday lives are happening at 10 p.m. in a high school gym with no air conditioning. All politics are local, but additionally, all politics are hidden in plain sight. 

The stories of these communities are the same stories that make national news, but on a much smaller scale. Issues of housing insecurity, climate change, gun violence and racism were laid bare by people in folding chairs with name placards made of printing paper. As a public servant, there were many things that I couldn’t intervene in and couldn’t address head-on. For all the times I was able to make headway in helping a council advocate for their community, there were just as many opportunists using the system for personal gain. 

Without a degree, I had limited options for where I could go. I had gone much farther than I would have expected, but I had reached a ceiling on my potential. I come from a highly-educated family, and the expectation had always been to get an undergraduate degree as a base, with a graduate degree or doctorate preferred. I felt I was letting them and myself down, and no amount of professional success was going to bridge that gap for me. 

I was worried that going back to school would be awkward at best and a disaster at worst, but when I was accepted into UC Davis, I was ecstatic. I can’t explain exactly why, but something in me was overwhelmed by the prospect of going to a school that had cows on campus in a town overrun with bicycles. It was completely different from my life as a project coordinator in Los Angeles. The pace was different. I am so grateful, after all of this time, to say that I received a quality education at UC Davis. It was indeed the right place for me.

 I want to use the knowledge I gained from my role with the city to be an ethical journalist. UC Davis has provided me with the knowledge and critical lens to do that effectively.

I’ll be going to graduate school at UC Berkeley. When I walk across the stage now, it won’t be when I expected to, but it will be the right time for me. 

Written by: Kathleen Quinn

Kathleen Quinn is The California Aggie’s current new media manager. She joined The Aggie in fall 2020 as a campus news staff writer. In winter 2021, she took on the role of assistant campus news editor, serving in that role until becoming new media manager in June 2021. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communication with an emphasis in media studies and continuing on to graduate school for journalism at UC Berkeley.