Commitment and Tenacity: Shanae James-May


By Mardeen Ahmad 


Commitment To Her Community

Shanae James-May


is a Communications and Behavioral Science major transferring to San Diego State University to pursue a degree in Urban Planning and Development. She wants to use her degree and experience to create better infrastructure – buildings/housing, transportation, and/or better resources for children.


James-May is deeply committed to her community of Lemon Grove, CA. She serves as a board member and garden volunteer for the Lemon Grove Community Garden. She also supports events and outreach for Thrive Lemon Grove, a community organization focused on the improvement of Lemon Grove. Currently, she is a student worker for the County of San Diego and loving it.


Overcoming Hurdles 

Like many college students, in her five years at Cuyamaca College, James-May juggled a full-time job, a family with small children, school, and community volunteer work.  As the 2021 commencement speaker, she had a few words of advice for those who find themselves discouraged. 


James-May believes that each academic journey is different, and the key to a good balance is to never compare your timeline to another. “You don’t want to put too much on your plate to the point where you just aren’t happy,” she said. “That’s where I had to sit back and take a pause from school at one point because it was putting a damper on my family.”


Like James-May, many students have to take a break from school when life gets in the way. For a lot of those students, finding the motivation to get back into their academic journey is one of the toughest parts. For Shanae, her motivation to complete school came from the desire to accomplish something for herself and set an example for her children.


Prior to having children, Shanae had kept a journal of her goals and aspirations and one day while cleaning up, she stumbled across it. In the journal, she had written that she wanted a Bachelor’s degree, children, and to be married. At the time, some of these goals had not yet been accomplished. “This is what I wanted, and this is what I still want. I just am not doing it in the same time span,” she said.


James-May says she has always encouraged her children to follow their dreams and never give up. She realized that although she had been motivating her children to do so, she felt like she had given up. “I’m going back, I’m going to finish this off,” James-May promised herself.


UMOJA and Cuyamaca Mentors 

James-May says that the intimate setting of Cuyamaca College made the process of going back to school less intimidating. After a meeting with a Cuyamaca counselor who gave her some encouraging words, she said she felt cared about as an individual rather than “just a number.”


That counselor introduced James-May to another advisor who ended up getting her involved in the UMOJA club.


It was there that James-May met peers, friends, and found another community that could help her succeed.


Besides UMOJA, James-May utilized a few other resources Cuyamaca offers such as Financial Aid and the Transfer Center. She believes that as a college, Cuyamaca provides a great sense of community and commended the faculty that helped her on her journey. “Cuyamaca has that down pat, in my perspective,” said James-May.


From overcoming test anxiety to walking around a campus, James-May says that her time at Cuyamaca prepared her for a 4-year university. “I guess when you don’t do that for so long, you kind of get nervous,” she explained.


James-May does have a word of advice for current and incoming Cuyamaca students. “The teachers are people too,” she said. Building a rapport and getting to know your educators is a skill she says helped her throughout her journey, and that she will take with her to university. She says that being in communication with your educators will help you as they just know things that you, as a student, do not.


“I’m going to be sad leaving Cuyamaca. I know that my strength did start from within, but it was because I went to Cuyamaca. I got prepared mentally by the classroom settings and the counselors and making a scheduled plan,” said James-May as she is about to embark on her SDSU journey.