A High-Achieving Student
By Julianna Montano–Hello, I am Julianna Montano, President of Cannabis at USC. While it’s been about a year and a half since I’ve taken the mantle, saying that always feels so surreal. To be a voice for this unique intersection of cannabis and college is a bit of a fever dream. After all, I never consumed cannabis until my undergraduate sophomore year. Not to mention my first semesters at USC made me feel like I was on the brink of dropping out.
Though this is no different from many freshmen, my directionless first year put me through an early quarter-life crisis. I was on the Pre-Law track, much to my family’s concern, as they did not know the field well and could not guide me. As a first-generation Filipina, there was significant pressure not to take the road less traveled and fasten safety nets. Becoming a lawyer was impressive but they worried that it may not be what I anticipated, so they ushered in a plan B. My parents’ ideal plan would have been nursing school or an MD.
In many eastern cultures, STEM is sought as the express lane to success. Very narrowly, that only applied if you were a full-fledged doctor or engineer. And if you grew up in a developing nation, you often did not get a second chance if you fumbled your career choice. I understood my parents’ apprehension when I got into USC for Philosophy, Politics, and Law. Honestly, I also lacked the confidence to defend my own choices.
Deep down, I knew it wasn’t for me, but I took on pharmacology as a second major, hoping to magically love it. If all went according to plan, I would be a doctor lawyer. Super rigorous! Super prestigious! It would be the ultimate flex. Piece of cake. This was all banking on the idea that I would not thrive off of the social sciences and have nothing to fall back on. I doubled my work, fearing I’d fail my first assignment before I’d even started it.
About 32-units in, with three C-minuses and a global pandemic that stunted all my motivation, I had dug myself into a hole. I was even further away from my initial goals and way too deep to turn back. Graduate school was a long shot at that rate. My internship applications were all rejected, and networking with no value to my name was fruitless.
The “traditional” and coveted safe route led me to a painting of a tunnel. Just like Wile E. Coyote, I came to that realization way too late. I felt a lot of shame for not knowing that amount of academic responsibility would surmount to this. I was playing the role of two totally different students, plus a daughter who did not want the blistering efforts of her immigrant parents to go to waste.
I hit a breaking point in the second semester of sophomore year while I was building my course plan with an academic advisor. She pulled up my progress report and I sat in the Zoom room, frozen. Why the hell, with my 3.25 GPA, would I even bother pursuing both Pre-Law and Pre-Pharmacy?
Had I lost all notion of my self-worth and consciousness to continue selling my soul for a future I didn’t even want? I’d already forgotten the pieces of myself that I truly liked – my creativity, my entrepreneurial spirit – because I was so caught up in this rat race of grades and handshakes at career fairs. I didn’t even have friends to turn to vent about these problems.
The current system was not working for me. Not to mention the pandemic had permanently shifted the way we’d navigate higher education here on out. I needed to pivot. And fast. The first step was finding an outlet on campus that was not 2am crying sessions in a study hall. That is when I found the Cannaclub USC.
At first, I thought I was having another stint at being someone I’m not. I had no relationship with cannabis whatsoever. I knew nothing about it, only that I loved The Chronic and Pineapple Express is a great movie. Never even tried it! Total poser moment. While I worried that I’d be sniffed out by the club, I really convinced myself that this was the right decision. Cannabis was the most culturally relevant reconciliation of law and pharmacy. I knew there was no harm in just wanting to learn more about it. I took the plunge, head-first in deep green waters.
About two years later, here I am, incredibly grateful to be a part of an eclectic community of brilliant people. We all come from different backgrounds; stoners and the simply canna-curious. Engrossed in the start-up fever, I came to realize that cannabis and college are not too different from one another. Note the comparisons:
- It Feels Like a Leap of Faith
Though we’re definitely in an era of re-emergence, we’re still staving off the residual effects of the War on Drugs. It takes conviction and true desire to learn to last in the cannabis industry, as goes for college. There is no time to waste on misguided motives and get-rich-quick schemes. This Green Wave is not green for everyone. The measure of your success is how well you can bolster the communities you are part a of. Knowledge is power. Use it.
- No One *Really* Knows What They Are Doing
I call cannabis a human conquest. We are all rallying behind this plant with the intent of unleashing its full potential and sharing it with the world. The price is a lot of trial and error, a lot of bias checks, and sunk costs. In the same way there is no “right” way of doing college, or a paved path to success, the cannabis industry feels like the wild, wild, west. But gee is it fun!
- You Are the Underdog
People will doubt you during your young and impressionable college years. Legal cannabis is still in its infancy. There will be nay-sayers and skeptics, but you have to work to prove them wrong. It was hard to convince my parents that law was the right choice. They questioned if I had lost it when I said I was going into weed, but since it was so out of left field, they quickly understood my belief in the space overcame my fear of their disapproval. Let their misgivings fuel our search for answers.
- With the Right Intentions, You Can Change the World
We must rewrite our wrongs. We must do our due diligence. Profit is nothing without growth. With this plant, we can forge communities, share the wealth, and use our knowledge to give back to the world. We can break chains and turn victims into heroes. Cannabis has always been an incubator of hope. Freshman Julianna had no clue what was in store for her, nor the obstacles and wounds that would come along the way. But every freshman and every newcomer to the industry comes with a bit of hope. We have come too far to drop out now.
Juliana Montana is a pre-law and pre-pharmacy student, and President of Cannabis at USC, where her work focuses on mentoring the next generation of industry leaders and health promotion. Find her online @jamrm_
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