What do you do when you’re unfulfilled and discontented in high school and you’re not getting the education you want?
If you’re Mustafa Eisa of Walnut Creek, you graduate early, get out, and enroll at Diablo Valley College.
Born in Baton Rouge, LA, Mustafa was seven and in the second grade when he moved with his family to Benicia, CA. After finishing the second half of second grade in Benicia, he returned to Baton Rouge with his mother for the summer, and stayed through the first half of third grade. He returned to Benicia for the second half of third grade, and that summer, his family moved to Walnut Creek, where he has attended school ever since.
Two years into Northgate High School, Mustafa said, he became frustrated when he realized he was not learning much.
“I saw students cheating. I saw alcohol and drugs (particularly marijuana) consume almost every person around me. I witnessed physical violence and abuse on a daily basis. I even fell victim to racial segregation that had me question how far we’ve come as a nation in the past century. I realized I was not getting the education I expected, and I had to get out as soon as I could.”
Halfway through his junior year, in October 2009, he passed the California High School Proficiency Exam and graduated from Northgate High School. The following January, he enrolled for spring term as a full-time student at Diablo Valley College.
It was not the easiest of times. “There was a two-week period in which my classes at Northgate overlapped with my classes at DVC,” he said. “It was particularly hectic, because I really needed to be in both places at once. I needed to finish my last finals at Northgate, while at the same time I needed to be present in my classes at DVC so that I could either maintain my seat in the class, or attempt to add the class if another student dropped it.”
But it all worked out, and Mustafa was a full time DVC student.
“Transitioning from high school to DVC,” he said, “I will admit that in my first semester I did not fit in. I found my in-class comments irrelevant and sometimes a bit immature compared to those around me. Even when I tried to fit in, I found myself incapable of the developed and sophisticated capacity that my peers displayed.
“Aside from maturity,” he continued, “I was also a bit tense. Coming from a high school where the population’s favorite past-times are verbal bullying, rumors, and bandwagon animosity, I found myself constantly looking over my shoulder while at DVC, always on guard in bitter anticipation. I never gave anyone the benefit of the doubt; I assumed the worst, and I was quick to retort to even the slightest comments in an attempt to project an outward image of self-confidence and brutal dexterity. It might as well have been war, as this was the only way I knew how to survive.”
Finally, after taking a good look at how he was acting– and the resulting reactions– he said, “I came to realize that my defensive attitude was almost never challenged; no one felt the need to compete with me, let alone to defend himself or herself in response. It was almost as if the students around me had no incentive—and likely no ability—to inflict pain or hurt one another, and similarly, did not smile upon me for being able to do so.” It was quite an awakening.
“I felt as though I was a pigeon among dodoes in a habitat with no human beings,” Mustafa said. “I was so used to fear and doubt that I was quick to react with even the slightest commotion, but there were simply no predators in the environment. And in the rare case that one was victimized in some way or another, a fellow Viking would be quick to set the record straight. I absolutely loved this about DVC!
“It was here that I recovered from the social traumas I was victim to in high school,” he continued. “It was here that I learned modesty in a personal context, integrity in a social context, and how humbling oneself can prove to be beneficial. It was here that I finally came to the conclusion that humans are born innocent by nature, but progressively tarnish over time, given their environment. In accordance with the saying, ‘Birds of a feather fly together,’ I began to see changes in myself.
“I was the rotten apple that was somehow cleansed by its ripe and healthy counterparts,” he said. “I traded my tendencies toward vulgar rhetoric for an interest in charm and articulation. I went from wanting to be an aggressive alpha male to wanting to be an eloquent gentleman. (And let me tell you, there is nothing I want more than to be regarded as a gentleman!) Oh, and the friends I made in the process! At DVC, I found older brothers to guide me, older sisters to endear me, uncles and aunts to celebrate my culminations and condole my losses, and so much more that I never had before, given my status as a first-generation American citizen (the majority of my family lives in Egypt).
“Even now, when I visit my old high school, I find I have become soft and unfit compared to my peers. And while I could work hard to return to this state of being feared, it means much more to me to be respected by the educated masses at DVC. I am happy to be innocent; I am happy to be gentle; I am happy to be a Viking. (Quite a remarkable contrast, considering the Vikings, from a historical perspective, were quite the opposite!)”
In his time at DVC, Mustafa has changed his major twice—and he notes that statistics predicted that.
“Business has always been compelling to me, as I enjoy working with people, especially when there are tactics and strategies involved in carrying out certain tasks (i.e. marketing campaigns, cost-benefit analysis, etc).” However, in an attempt to please his “mathematician and this-or-that-ology” family lineage and ancestry, he pursued Industrial Engineering in his first full semester. “It seemed to exist somewhere between what my family would want and my interest in business,” he said.
However, after taking a deeper look into the field in his “Introduction to Engineering” course that semester, he said, “I was shocked to find that it was much more the former (engineering) than it was the latter (business). I adjusted my schedule accordingly in an attempt to pursue just business for my second full semester,” he added. “Then, with help from my esteemed counselor and crystal ball reader, Robert Peters, I found, unfortunately, that business at the undergraduate level appeared to be somewhat uncommon in the institutions I was aiming for–UCLA, Stanford, and Harvard, among others. Instead of taking the chance and pursuing the few schools that did offer this major–and perhaps missing my goal school and landing on a safety school that I might not be happy to attend– I decided to pursue economics. It seemed to be business’s counterpart in many ways, especially considering that the shift from business to economics managed to keep my schedule intact. Taking economics also put me in a good position to pursue my ultimate goal of business at the graduate level.”
While Mustafa never was really interested in playing sports, he did participate in many clubs and organizations at DVC to “expose myself to campus life outside the classroom,” he said. He was involved in Alpha Gamma Sigma (the DVC honor society), as well as Alpha Beta Gamma (international honor society for business students) and Phi Beta Lambda (students interested in business).
“However,” he said, “no club has compelled me to contribute as thoroughly and consistently as the Muslim Student Association (MSA). “This club and its activities heavily influenced my community college experience. By attending MSA meetings and representing the club in various student government organizations I made many friends and learned a thing or two about being professional in a democratic setting. I was at the forefront of this club during my last semester at DVC, working directly with the president to raise and allocate funding, coordinate events, and market the club. I can say with confidence–and I’m sure the club president would too– that I have a special connection with, and perhaps a soft spot for, this club compared to other clubs, and I feel it is like a child I have raised with my bare hands.”
Now Mustafa’s time at DVC has ended. Although he did not receive a degree from DVC, he will transfer this fall with an IGETC certificate.
“I applied to UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis, UCLA, and UC Berkeley,” he said, “and I am pleased to say I was admitted to all four. Academically speaking, I feel that UC Berkeley will allow me the brightest future, so I will be attending there this fall.”
After graduating from UC Berkeley, Mustafa said, he hopes to work in the banking or finance sector for three to five years, and then plans to apply to Harvard, where he hopes to study for about two years to earn his Masters in Business Administration. He has no plans from that point, but said, “I do hope to end up on the forefront of international economics.”
Does he have any advice for others?
For high school students he says, “Consider community college, not only as an alternative to a university, but also as a method of enhancing your education. The smaller class sizes and easily-accessible professors make for a more thorough education than what you would receive in your freshman and sophomore years at a UC.”
To entering DVC students he says, “Exploit every second you have at DVC, because this is one of the most diverse and bubbling campuses, even compared to a four-year university. As an open admissions institution, this college is full of active and compassionate individuals, and what you see here you will not see anywhere else in the world.”