Graduating to go back to school

By Iris Ortiz, guest writer

“So, what are your plans after graduation?”

We all know that dreaded question. After all, I’ve been avoiding graduation for four long years. There are countless things I’ll miss—football games, late nights at the library, even the chaos of finding parking right before chapel—but now, as family members probe about my plans, my anxiety has finally dwindled. I can proudly answer that I’m going back to school, but this time, as a teacher.

As a student at APU, I’ve kept myself busy as a liberal studies major and spent countless hours of service learning at various local elementary schools. It wasn’t until I started volunteering with students who—despite their potential—weren’t given the same opportunities I had, that I started to see the systemic injustices in this country up close. The power and centrality of education had never been clearer to me.

APU gave me the opportunity to challenge myself and allowed me to be surrounded by motivating and inspiring individuals.

After graduation, I want to continue to push myself out of my comfort zone. I want to jump head first into a career that will give me an opportunity to have an immediate impact. That’s why I chose to become an elementary teacher in the Las Vegas Valley with Teach for America.

I believe that a classroom is a powerful place for social change. When I think about the social issues I’m most passionate about—immigration, equality, racism and discrimination—I’ve come to realize that there’s no better place to tackle them than head-on in the classroom. After all, education is the most powerful tool at our disposal to disrupt inequity and create opportunity.

As a corps member, I know I’ll face incredible challenges as I tackle these complex and systemic issues. I also know that my experiences on campus have equipped me to take on these obstacles on behalf of my students.

And if not me, then who? As a classroom leader, I’ll continue to shape my values and beliefs, find my voice and more clearly define the impact I want to make on the world.

I look forward to creating a community with my students full of pride and school spirit, and I can’t wait to bring what I’ve learned at APU into my classroom in Las Vegas. I hope to inspire my students to attend higher education institutions like APU. When I think about the things I love most about being on this campus, I realize I have many experiences to take with me.

I’m excited to step out of my now-comfortable lecture halls, libraries and coffee shops to start my path as a leader in a different kind of classroom. This classroom will be one where I’ll get to impact the lives of the next generation as their teacher, a classroom where I’ll have the opportunity to make a positive change in a community I’ll call my new home.

So, as you consider which path you’ll forge after graduation, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. Listen to the moments that have defined your college experiences thus far. Someday, we all have to leave APU, but I can think of no greater privilege than helping the next generation of students have the opportunity to become Cougars as well.

Iris Ortiz is a liberal studies major with a concentration in Psychology. She is also a 2017 Teach for America Las Vegas Valley corps member.