By Aaron Lacambra
I didn’t think it would be me.
When I first heard about Heads Up America’s #FreeCommunityCollegeStory Instagram video competition, I thought “there’s no way I can win.” The contest asked community college students to share their stories and discuss why community college should be free. The prize was $2,000! That’s about the cost of community college tuition for a semester. Like all students, I’m always on the lookout for ways to earn or save money for my education. So I decided to enter.
In one night, I managed to draft my story, record the audio, and film my animated video on a makeshift studio in our living room. Why rush, right? Well, being a full-time student with three jobs is no easy task. But I believed I could do it. Surrounded with desk lights and a flashlight taped to my tripod, I told my story for the whole nation to hear.
It’s a story that could’ve been anybody else’s.
Like all students, I had to choose between a college or a university. When I moved to the United States two years ago, I had no idea how to find a good school. All I knew was that the sooner I started, the sooner I could help my family. For an immigrant from a working-class family, who had not taken the SAT or ACT, the choice was easy. I decided to go to a two-year college – Broward College in South Florida.
Over the years of my college experience, community college has taught me what it takes to succeed. Being in the particular leadership environment Broward offers has helped me learn how to manage time effectively as both a student and as a young adult. Broward College’s flexible schedule allows me to juggle such different jobs as an Orientation Leader, Social Media Manager, and Math Tutor. These roles have helped me build my study skills as small class sizes have helped me form strong relationships with my professors. My hard work in the classroom paid off! I’ve earned a 4.0 GPA. I’m also an officer for my Honor Society, helping me build a network that will serve me well after college.
My community college years have prepared me to be a successful engineer. I know that I will graduate with less student debt and more experience than other students. Higher education should be a right, not a privilege. Making community college accessible to all students is an effective way to invest in people, our communities, and our country.
Winning the Heads Up America video competition was one of the best experiences of my life. I received money to cover a semester of education and Heads Up America also invited me to Washington, DC, to join the conference on free college education, called PromiseNet. I was recognized at the conference for winning and had an opportunity to address the attendees.
A voice is a powerful thing. Yet so often, the voices and struggles of students are not heard or valued—particularly community college students. Because of Heads Up America, I stood in front of a crowd of hundreds of education leaders, mayors, business leaders, and even some White House officials to share my story.
Now it is time to pay it forward.
On March 3, Heads Up America announced another competition—this time, with the theme “Breaking Up with Student Debt.” This theme really appeals to me as student debt still holds so many students back. Bills stack up fast for students—books, gas, childcare, rent, and more. Before you know it, community college is just out of reach for the very people who need it most. It’s simply too great a burden for these students and for America.
Community college students and alumni can enter the competition to share their personal stories about why they want to break up with student debt. So enter and then get to creating your one-minute video. The deadline to submit your video is April 2. Who knows? You could win $2,000, too!
Go to Heads Up America’s Instagram page to learn more about the competition or to headsupamerica.us/breakup to enter.