The chill in the air has descended upon us so quickly, signaling the return of school. It’s the time of year when eighth-graders are anticipating high school, and high school juniors begin looking at possible colleges. Finishing undergraduate college students, meanwhile, face the decision of continuing on to graduate school, entering the workforce, or both.

This column is for the college students, those trying to beat the odds of generational poverty, those who come back to the ‘hood and get the “you-think-you-are-better-than-us” looks. It’s for those students with the correct grammar and an appreciation for where you have been and where you are going. It’s for those who never gave up on a dream.

I’m writing this to tell them they are not alone.

My decision to go to college was a lonely one, and the journey was even lonelier. I also understand that many people don’t support higher education and may respond to your decision with, “I know someone with a master’s degree working at McDonald’s.”

I know all too well thinking I was not good enough to get into a prestigious university like Loyola University Chicago because of my grades or because I was from Austin.

I know the uncomfortable feeling of being the sole African-American male in a graduate class, discussing marginalized black men in low socioeconomic areas. I felt like a spokesperson for the entire race of black men. Maybe that was not my peers’ intention, but race had everything to do with why I felt like that.

There will be times when you might be the only minority in study groups. But that’s OK. You have something valuable to contribute.

It is commonplace to discuss the number of people in Austin who go to prison, drop out of school or succumb to the false idea that college is not for them. Many of those people proudly tell the tale of prison, painting a glamorous scene. We have plenty of platforms for talking about the blight of Chicago’s most populated neighborhood.

But who tells the tale of an Austin college graduate student?

Who tells about the difficulty of being a college student, then in the same breath explains that the very diverse group of people you meet makes a place like Austin seem so small, that through building relationships, you find out not everyone outside was born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

There are times when I feel more connected to the college students than I do to the people I have grown up around. The learning process is fun in and of itself – not to mention the partying that goes on! But I implore you to use your own discretion.

I know a lot of people with advanced degrees. It’s not that college is a foreign concept, but where I’m from, not many people tell you about the process. I know others without education who focus on the superficial end result. These people want to know what kind of car you drive or where you live.

I just want to tell people like Amber Jones, the focus of a recent AustinTalks article and partly the inspiration for this column, that despite what others think, the journey is rewarding.

And you are not alone.

austintalks.org@gmail.com