The life of an out-of-state student experiencing the thrill of graduating

Category:  Opinions
Thursday, December 3rd, 2015 at 6:46 AM

We like to focus on people who have achieved the pinnacle of success in our culture. If they’ve published something fantastic, discovered a new planet, or concocted a cure to a debilitating disease they are quickly handed Nobel, Pulitzer and Copley awards. This is all rightly so, as their contributions have enriched the quality of life for most everyone around them, and they should be noted for their achievements. Although today I’d like to spend some time taking a look at someone who hasn’t won a Nobel Prize, who hasn’t traveled the world on privates jets, or shook hands with the president. Instead, I want to talk about Shaina Porter, an out-of-state student at Edinboro, who has overcome her own doubts, trials, and pushed through life’s numerous roadblocks to finally receive a degree in business this coming winter.

Shaina has been my suite-mate for two years now, and over the course of time we, two introverts, have come to know each other well. What started out as awkward fumbling around the kitchen when we were both trying to heat up some Ramen, turned into a rather solid friendship, one where we enjoy dinner together every other night.

From an outsider’s perspective, there is no reason why Shaina and I should relate to one another. She’s a pragmatic business major with a penchant for numbers and problem-solving, I’m a scatter-brained writer with a proclivity for 800 page novels and sleepless writing binges. Everything about the laws of nature suggests that we should have nothing to discuss, but we’ve both found the contrary to be true. There’s a lot to talk on, and we probably won’t get to it by the time she boards her flight back to California.

Over the years, I’ve pieced together fragmentary accounts and relations that Shaina would divulge, but it wasn’t until I was walking home from class a week or so ago when I realized that I had an incomplete, unfinished picture of who Shaina was.

Now, as I’ve disclosed, Shaina isn’t the type of student that academia would typically vault into the lime-light. She hasn’t brought the institution fame or notoriety, but a lot of students haven’t. So, I’d like to pen an article for the Shaina’s of Edinboro, the students who are hard-workers, and have left their families and friends thousands of miles behind to pursue something worthwhile.

Coming to school in Edinboro was never Shaina’s intention: “California really is so sunny. There’s so much heat. That’s not the case here. There are a lot of Hispanic people in California, including myself, so when I came here there was this shock, there are no Hispanics... People would come up to me and say ‘What are you?’ in reference to my skin pigmentation, ‘I’m human,’ I would say, ‘what are you?’”

Shaina tells me the differences present when she first arrived here were shocking. When she first got here, she found herself missing California. “I still miss it. Even though we’re in the same country, there’s such a cultural difference. Your sense of humor is really different here. In California, we’re much more sarcastic and snarky. A lot of my friends at home wouldn’t find what Pennsylvanians find funny, funny. I mean, you guys call sandwiches ‘hoagies.’ When I was first offered one, I was like ‘I don’t do drugs,’” she said, laughing.

“I came here with this whimsical attitude, I was just like, ‘let’s go to Pennsylvania and see what happens!’ But I didn’t really know what I was getting into; I didn’t know what was going to happen here. I just came. After two weeks I was crying, crying all the time. Then I just thought to myself it was a matter of suiting-up and showing-up. I needed to pull myself together.”

“I chose Edinboro because I’ve always wanted to get out of Whittier, California. Whittier is a pretty big city when compared to Edinboro, but it’s small when compared to California cities,” Shaina told me.

“Like where I live, it’s called uptown Whittier, and it’s a very small and concentrated college town. When I was filling out an online quiz for what college would best suit what I’m looking for, I had the image of a California college town: much more wide, cultured, and diverse — lots of coffee shops, museums, shopping, and movie theaters galore. That was my life. Here the college town ideal feels like football is the center of the universe and it’s this atmosphere where everyone knows each other and went to school together. It was drastically different than what I expected. But I always knew I wanted to get out of California. I really wanted to see what’s out there, because until my first flight to Edinboro, I hadn’t really seen what was outside of L.A. county.”

“All my friends were like, ‘You’re not going to go to a little village in PA,’ so I triple-dog-dared myself to go and do it. I’m happy with the choice. I picked something totally different for myself. I get to fly back and forth between PA and CA and experience two entirely different, but equally interesting groups of people.”

Shaina sat pensively for a moment, as if she was in deep contemplation, “I’m going to miss how tiny Edinboro is; the small classroom sizes, how opinionated people are here. I like that people from my major are not ashamed to say what they feel. They’re used to debate and talking about opinions. They say what they want to say and aren’t afraid to debate about it. I like that,” Shaina admitted, “there’s this raw feeling to it.”

I asked Shaina how she felt about graduating in two weeks and her face lit up. “Graduation is going to be great because I did it! You know, all these people were saying I couldn’t do it — that I couldn’t fly between CA and PA and get my degree.”

“Being an out-of-state student is super expensive, I took out a lot of loans and got some grants and I worked really hard on my grades to make sure that they were OK for financial aid, because like most college kids — I’m poor,” Shaina conceded. “When I say poor, I mean in the element of CA I’m pretty low-grade poor. I live in a one bedroom apartment with my mom; we just don’t have a lot of money.”

Shaina’s mother has been an incredible supporter throughout the entirety of her college career.

“Her ideal was to have me go to a college in CA and stay as close as possible so she could help support me. But when I said I wanted to go across the country, she was like ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have money to do that.’ But it was my dream,” said Shaina.

“I wanted to get out of here. So I found a way to make it work. Edinboro is in a small town, sure. But I’ve still seen things I would have never had the chance to see had I stayed in the same spot. Going across the country is a big deal for someone who has stayed in the same county their entire life.”

It wasn’t always an easy choice, Shaina informed me. “During my junior year I thought about transferring back, and finishing in CA because it was so expensive. I was forced to consider it financially. Everyone seemed to be waiting on me to give up and come home. But I kept telling myself I have to finish, I have to finish what I started.”

The distance between her hometown and college town were stressful enough, but the weight of difficult classes also added tension. 

“When I took my first accounting class, that’s when college became this real thing to me. I don’t know why, other than the fact that I was struggling so hard. At that point I was constantly questioning myself. ‘Why am I here, what am I doing here, I don’t fit in.’”

It was that semester that Shaina got both a D in accounting and microeconomics and had to retake both. “I wanted to run to my mom and ask her what do. I tried calling her, but she was already asleep because of the time difference. I panicked for a second, but after talking to some close friends and realizing I’ve faced greater obstacles just growing up in CA, I concluded it was just one more thing for me to beat.”

Raised by a single mother, Shaina told me her mother undoubtedly instilled that education was crucial. “My mother didn’t go to college. She went for one semester and then had to drop out. She was too far behind, because the education she got from her high school was subpar. But she always wanted me to have a better education than her. She works in an office that she dislikes now, because she doesn’t have the education to do what she wants. And I know that she never wanted that for me.”

Shaina is sure that the major she has studied at Edinboro has helped her in numerous ways. “Majoring in business helped me become a much more confident person. I’m self-assured, but in a good way. It’s taught me how to socialize, and how to find my own voice in the crowd. Knowing that I was going to have to present projects for at least 10 minutes on the weekly [basis] really forces you to ‘come out of your shell.’”

With a degree waiting for her on Dec. 12, Shaina has the job of her dream mentally planned.

“If I could go anywhere with my degree I would work for a company like Google, I would want to oversee the marketing and advertising aspects of the company. I would love to travel to parts of Asia, Europe, Africa and even the country that I live in.”

Realistically, Shaina allowed the reality of graduating to sink in, stating, “I’m worried about graduating, about whether I should stay in PA or head back to CA. I just don’t know what’s out there.” I think she will find it mildly reassuring that most don’t “know what’s out there” either.

We ended the interview on this note, with Shaina divulging her philanthropic intentions: “If I ever am as successful as I want to be, I’m definitely going to set up a scholarship here for out-of-state students or kids from single-parent households who ‘made it.’”

I can’t help but focus on her choice of words, “who made it.” Because that is what Shaina and the graduating class of 2015 have done — they’ve made it. Congratulations! 

Emma Giering is the Voices Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at

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