Turning "D"s into
Degrees: A CUNY Student Tells How
Rajen Persaud is the first to admit he was not a very good
student in high school. "Intellectual embarrassment—that’s
like one of the worst things that can happen to you in life.
You are sitting in class and the teacher asks a question,
then points to you. And you don’t know the answer!"
Persaud’s cluelessness in his Bryant High School classes in
Long Island City made him a model "D" student. "I failed a
ton of classes. . .that's why I didn't want to go on to college.
I just didn’t want to fail again."
He then reminisces about interesting walks
he took with his cousin Eric through some of the city’s most
blighted neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.
“This is what happens when you don’t have an education,” he
told Persaud. Then Eric suggested he try coming to his school,
Kingsborough Community College.
"So I signed up, did the liberal arts thing, and took a ton
of remedial courses." With his cousin’s help, Persaud began
to do something unheard of: "I just paid attention. I just
did what I was supposed to do in high school: paid attention,
went to class, did my homework." Then the Guyana native, who
came to the U.S. at the age of eight, decided to "do" Baruch
College, which he found very user-friendly. "It was like going
down South to a family reunion. Everybody was ready to help.
Baruch really does provide a homey environment. Even if you
are from out of town you can connect with someone at CUNY."
Persaud’s experience inspired him so much that he decided
to write a book that would help other students make the most
of their college experience. "In about four or five months
I had a complete, edited manuscript." Making It Through
College: Your Passport to the Information Age appeared
earlier this year and has already been given out to freshmen
at their orientation at Baruch. It’s also been ordered for
students at Bronx and Borough of Manhattan Community Colleges.
Lest there be any doubt that the book’s
260 pages and 42 chapters are written from a student perspective,
Persaud’s preface begins: “America’s youth are adrift in an
educational sea of adult cynicism. We teach them the value
of academic attainment then we cut funding to basic educational
Persaud has organized his book in sections on Things to Know
(among them “Losing Your Ethnicity” and “Choosing Classes”),
Cautions (on such topics as “Bigotry and Intolerance, ” “Sexual
Harassment,” and “Counseling”), The College Game (“Changing
Majors and Transferring” and “Paying for College,” for example),
and Taking Responsibility (which tackles such topics as “Exams”
and “Classroom Etiquette”). Persaud ends with several chapters
on Keeping Your Sanity.
Making It Through College is not
lacking in humor. It comes with a “Warning” to “Keep Well
in Reach of Children.” The last of his acknowledgments is
“to Moms, hey thanks for that whole birth thing, babe!” The
sub-head for a chapter on Time Management reads, “Time flies
when you are wasting it.” On the very last page, to inspire
even the most laggard of potential college students, Persaud’s
high school transcript is arrayed in full gory detail.
The humor is no accident. Since graduating in 1992 with a
B.A. in Political Science, Persaud has earned some of his
keep in stand-up comedy (it also paid off some of his Baruch
tuition). Though now involved in the writing, producing, and
directing of films, he is still planning to hit the books
Persaud’s stylish, desktop-published book makes clear his
entrepreneurial knack (it has its own website: www.makingitthroughcollege.com).
On the back cover Persaud defines the word universally despised
at CUNY—attrition—with a shrewd acrostic that explains why
he turned author:
Speaking generally about Making It, Persaud says he hopes
readers “will get out of it the fact that they can be and
do anything they want. It may sound trite, but it’s just that
simple. . .CUNY is a huge, huge collective of colleges that
can take you anywhere you want to go. By all means, come to
CUNY, do your thing.” Then the author shrewdly adds, “and
get my book to help you out!”
Author Rajen Persaud in mid-routine at
Caroline's, the New York comedy club.