I’m not going to lie, this post was quite challenging for me to write. Not because the material was hard, or the story was convoluted, but because I needed to be unbiased. And it was very hard for me to be unbiased here. Because, as it turns out, I am truly, madly, deeply in love with Christopher Vaudrain. So I did my best to tell you his educational story with a minimum of sappy details about his amazing kindness and beautiful introspective traits, but you must forgive me if some of my fondness bled through.
I saw Chris several times before I officially met him. We attended QVCC at the same time, but for some unknown reason, our paths never crossed in class. This, however, didn’t stop us from being the overachieving homeschoolers that we truly are as I first noticed him during scholarship night. We were awarded the same scholarship and the picture taken after the ceremony was our first picture together (which seems very appropriate if you ask me). After later being inducted into the same honor society, attending the same glorified hallway for 2 consecutive years and literally (and unknowingly) living 100 yards away from each other for approximately 1,825 days, I had to go all the way to Storrs to finally officially meet him. We were both enrolled in the Guaranteed Admissions Program with UConn, and our first conversation was filled with all of these statistically improbable similarities. Chris had caught my eye as an interesting, magnanimous and fascinating person, but until I interviewed him I had no idea just how true that really was.
As I mentioned, Chris attended QVCC, and while in retrospect it’s a decision he is grateful to have made, this was not his first choice. When he started applying to colleges, he applied to private colleges as well as UConn, but wasn’t accepted anywhere he really wanted to attend. He didn’t feel ready to move far away and live on his own, so he begrudgingly chose to go to QVCC because it was conveniently close and affordable. When he started going to QV, he was surprised to find that he enjoyed the school, and the detrimental stereotypes he had about community colleges were all completely wrong. Before going to QV, Chris had heard that the students wouldn’t be as motivated, the education would be subpar, and the faculty would be uncaring and disappointing. However, he couldn’t have been more wrong, and he had an exceptional example to disprove the stereotype of community college professors.
Chris took four semesters of Spanish at QV, but there weren’t enough students to actually run the Spanish 3 and Spanish 4 classes. However, he was able to further his knowledge of Spanish through an independent study with Professor Elkin Espitia-Loaiza – a Spanish teacher who is held in such high regard that I wish I had taken Spanish at QVCC. Chris had many words of praise for Elkin (as he prefers to be called), but one story in particular stood out to me. Chris told me that “for my final project I did a powerpoint and all that stuff, but to make it multimodal I wrote a rap song in Spanish and I like, dropped bars on him in Español. It was so fun; I mean, I don’t know how great my rapping was, but he let me have a lot of license with how I went about it.” I am a huge proponent for making learning fun, and as a homeschooled student, my mom embraced this while I was young and helped me love learning. However, I had never heard about a college professor supporting such a different final project and was blown away by the one-on-one connection Chris told me he had with Elkin. This independent study wasn’t something for which Elkin received additional compensation, and yet he greatly enriched Chris’s learning experience and was a true representation of the spirit of learning that QVCC tries to embody as a whole.
After graduating with me at QVCC, Chris also started taking classes at UConn in the Fall of 2016. I asked Chris if he felt prepared going into UConn, both academically and socially, and he told me that he absolutely felt prepared academically. He mentioned that, although the difficulty level of classes at QV was comparable to that at UConn, there was almost more motivation to do well at QV because the teachers know the students and don’t let you skate through classes. Chris said he feels that, while UConn is “definitely a quality education, it’s not leagues above the community college experience at all.” Chris also added that socially, he felt “much better prepared than I would have been freshman year if I had gone there for a typical 4 year route. I matured a lot in my experience at QV, for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones being my experience at that school. Just on an individual level, I have an apartment, I live there alone, and I’m actually adulting for the first time, which is fun. I wouldn’t have been prepared for it otherwise. You have to remember to pay your credit card bill and stuff like that, but the bank hasn’t repoed my car, I haven’t demolished my credit score, so I think I’m staying afloat.”
When I asked Chris if he felt as though he missed anything by entering UConn as a junior, he told me that “I missed a lot of the fraternity parties, but turns out, I don’t really like to party anyways, so no. Alcohol poisoning – I never got it.” He thought he was missing out on a ton of experiences when he spent his first two years in college at QVCC, but once he got to UConn he realized they were experiences he was glad that he missed out on. As I now know first hand, Chris has become incredibly independent and mature, and he credits a lot of this to the skills he had to learn while at community college.
While Chris entered UConn with the intention of going to law school after his earning his Bachelor’s Degree, he has used his first year living on his own to do some serious introspection and figure out what he wants to do, instead of what other people want him to do. He has decided that he just can’t see himself as a lawyer in a few years. While he’s not sure what direction he will go in when he graduates, he’s thinking of working for a non-profit of some kind. When I asked Chris if he had anything else he wanted to add about alternative education, he said something that I thought really captured the spirit of his educational path.
“To anybody who reads this blog – don’t listen to all the hype and don’t believe everything that you hear.. My experience [with community college instead of a four year university] was like buying an Android while my friends bought an iPhone – I spent half as much and I’m still taking better pictures. It’s like you’re paying for a brand sometimes. If you want to take the traditional route, awesome – follow your path, but don’t think for a second that is how everyone has to be and if they’re not, they’re somehow deficient. There’s a lot of ways to go about life, education, and even higher education.”
Okay – I think I did a pretty good job being unbiased there for a while. What do you think? Well, I’m afraid I’m going to have to break that streak here, because I’m feeling a tad sentimental and incredibly, overwhelmingly grateful. This alternative education project has brought me closer to many people and has shown me just how individual and unique each person can be. I have been able to look critically at our education system and question many of the social norms that society holds, but on a personal level, this project has brought me a level of happiness and contentment that I didn’t think was possible. As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, I’m different in many ways. I don’t fit in with the collegiate social scene, so I have a hard time making friends and deep connections. Meeting people who understand me even the slightest is challenging, so I didn’t have high hopes of finding anyone who understood every part of me. But then I interviewed Chris. And I know that this project is about education, but I can’t get through this entire blog post without taking a minute to just appreciate the human being that Christopher is. He is kind and compassionate, funny and intelligent, and I feel as though I must have won some kind of world wide lotto game every time I realize how lucky I am to have him in my life. I don’t think I believe in fate, or destiny, but I do believe in puzzles. And while I can only scratch the surface of how I feel for him here, I can say this – he fits into my life like the puzzle piece I didn’t know was missing. I have been called an “old soul” many times, and if I am an old soul then he is one with me. He makes me realize that many clichés are not as ridiculous as I once thought, if you really have found the right person. If nothing else comes of this project, I will be eternally floored that an idea in my head about a blog project brought Christopher into my life, when ironically we had been quite literally living within shouting distance from each other for years.