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College Degree The Fruit Of Hard Work — And Much Assistance

Colleges and UniversitiesSupplemental Nutrition Assistance ProgramTemporary Assistance for Needy FamiliesU.S. Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentChicago Housing AuthorityTrinity College

Success is often characterized in a way that celebrates individual achievement, perseverance and personal triumph. Although it is true that it is my name is on my new college diploma, there is simply no way I would have made it to this day without a broad network of support from friends, family, employers, faculty and government assistance programs.

On May 19, I graduated from Trinity College with a bachelor of arts in American Studies. I've stumbled a few times along the way, but I've managed to overcome those obstacles thanks to help from many different sources.

My friends and family were always there to encourage me even when I failed. My employers have always supported me, allowing me to pursue my studies and essentially paying me to do my homework. The professors and faculty at Trinity were nothing short of incredible. They went above and beyond in their dedication to my intellectual and professional growth.

As important as the help of many people has been, a wide range of financial and economic services also made my graduation possible. There are the well known forms of help, such as Pell Grants and other forms of financial aid for college. Trinity was particularly generous to me with the grants I received through the Individual Degree Program, and I'm thankful.

There are also many other invisible hands that helped me along the way. My ability to focus on my education was underwritten by several state and federal assistance programs. I receive a rent subsidy, which is administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. My son's day care costs have been subsidized by federal and state funding. I receive food stamps and health care through state programs.

Despite my working two jobs at Trinity, I could not have completed my degree without the help of these programs. I had to leave my full-time work three years ago to pursue my education, and it has been a financial struggle ever since. These programs not only stepped in to help cover the gap between my income and my expenditures, but they also gave me the breathing room to spend more time on my studies. I could not have taken the time to do firsthand research for my senior thesis on the changed racial composition of the Bloomfield schools if I had to work the hours necessary to cover all the expenses I would have without assistance. My performance would have suffered if I had to juggle even more work hours instead of meeting with professors and classmates to improve my work.

People like me, who rely on these programs, are often derided as a nameless, faceless mass of welfare dependent layabouts and underachievers. On the contrary, we are decent people who just need some help to get by.

There are thousands of people like me in Connecticut who count on programs like Pell Grants, food stamps, HUSKY and Section 8 to further their education, find housing or feed their families. Everything that I've accomplished at Trinity, and that I will accomplish in the future with my degree, is the explicit result of help from those government assistance programs. Imagine how many more people could achieve what I have if they had access to the same support programs I did.

In the current climate of austerity and budget-tightening, these kinds of social programs are usually the first to find themselves on the chopping block. I'm living proof that these programs work, and offer the foundation for people to improve their lives.

My story is not a tale of one person's indomitable spirit overcoming all. Instead, it is the embodiment of a community effort, which poured its resources into me and made my success possible. We must do what we can to ensure that others have the same opportunity I have.

Jamil R. Ragland, 27, lives in Hartford.

The Courant invites writers younger than 30 to write essays of 650 words or less containing strong views. Please email your submission to freshtalk@courant.com, with your full name, hometown, daytime phone number, age and occupation (or your school's name and your level in school). You can also fax op-eds to 860-520-6941.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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