2023 PSD Language Arts: Olly Tetrault

Portrait of Olly Tetrault, the 2023 Presidential Scholar of Distinction for the Language Arts pathway, wearing regalia with the pond in the background.

Keep going — that sums up Olly Tetrault’s philosophy. Olly wanted to be a writer from a young age, and joining Cypress College’s English program is helping them with this goal. It took a while for Olly to get here, and a few years to earn their degree, but with the support of professors, the Creative Guild and LGBTQ+ clubs, and their family, they never gave up and now will walk proudly during commencement as a Presidential Scholar of Distinction. Olly wants to continue studying and earn their bachelor’s degree and, with a little support and a lot of the intrinsic motivation that has kept them going this far, there’s no doubt they’ll succeed.

Please tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? What are your interests? What is your story?

I grew up in Fullerton, and lived in Orange County my whole life. I’ve always had a strong interest in storytelling: I was the kid in the back of the class always with my nose in a book. It wasn’t just books, though – TV, games, movies, music … really any form of media that was creative and that I could get lost in. I’ve always wanted to tell my own stories and make my own mark in these kinds of creative media.

What are you most passionate about? Why?

Perhaps I am repeating myself here, but I am most passionate about my writing, or any creative projects. Writing is something I always knew I wanted to do ever since I was a child, so it’s something I’ve always pursued and put 110% of myself into. I’m not sure I would be able to say why, but if I had to guess, it’s just that I like the idea of exploring new ideas, thinking of what makes the world tick and what makes people who they are. I like to explore all of that in my writing.

Why did you choose Cypress College?

I chose Cypress College because it was the school that best fit what I wanted. I originally went to Fullerton College right out of high school and, while I enjoyed my time there, I think ultimately I needed to be somewhere new. After taking a break from school, I chose Cypress, as it was a new and different place while still being close enough to not feel too disruptive. When I first came on campus in 2017 to speak with counselors and walked around the school, I knew right away I was where I needed to be.

What have you been involved in at Cypress College? How has your path unfolded?

I joined a few clubs during my time here at Cypress College, but the one that I spent the most time with, and the one I think of the most fondly, was the Creative Guild. It was wonderful to get to share a space with other creative students and share our thoughts and ideas with each other, to help each other grow in our creative endeavors. I also joined the LGBTQ+ club for a while, and I also greatly enjoyed my time there. It is very important to me to reach out and meet other queer individuals, and I think college especially is one of the best places to do so.

My path has unfolded in a few surprising ways. I’ve met some fantastic people, some of whom I foresee having great friendships with moving forward even after I’ve left Cypress. There have been plenty of ups and downs: I’ve struggled to really figure out what exactly I wanted to do, there were a lot of personal struggles, and of course the pandemic threw me for a loop. But I persevered because I knew if I let myself give up even a little, I wouldn’t see it through to the end, and I was determined to.

Share a memorable event or experience while you’ve been a Cypress College student.

I honestly don’t think I have anything that is too out of the ordinary but in general, I have had many wonderful classes here on Cypress. All of my English classes, my literature and writing classes, have been fantastic and I’ve loved getting to hone my craft as a writer and a literary critic. But other than the classes I knew I would enjoy, I’ve also had plenty of classes I was surprised by how much I enjoyed.

I had some great history classes, my Spanish classes have been wonderful, and my astronomy and philosophy classes have made me want to learn more in the subjects. I don’t know what I will pursue when I transfer, outside of my major, but I know that I have plenty of options, and it is thanks to my time here at Cypress that I’ve realized so.

Who are the faculty and staff (in your major, an academic or other support program, etc.) who have helped you get where you are today?

Professor Tran and Professor Kaufman have both been a great help and such wonderful people here at Cypress. They have really helped me guide me through my time here and have been wonderful teachers and mentors. Their passion for their craft, for writing and for literature, and for helping students, have been clear in everything they’ve done, and I have them to thank for all that I have improved upon during my time here. I know that moving forward, my achievements and opportunities ahead of me will be thanks in great part to them.

How has Cypress College supported you throughout your time at the college?

Cypress College has helped me a lot in making sure I excel at my classes and goals and ensuring that I reach my goal of graduation and transferring to a 4-year university. The Learning Resource Center was a boon when I struggled with classes like statistics and Spanish, and my counselors helped push me toward making sure I took the right classes for my major. In particular, the transfer and career counselors went above and beyond in helping me get the information and resources needed to succeed both in and out of school, to make my journey towards a completed degree all the easier. I really have to thank the faculty here at Cypress College a lot for how much they’ve helped me in realizing my dream.

What are your immediate plans after completing your studies at Cypress College (at your transfer institution, in the workforce, etc.)?

After Cypress, I plan to transfer to a 4-year university, either a Cal State or UC. I am leaning towards Long Beach as it’s the school I’ve always set as my main goal since starting here at Cypress. It has the programs I am most interested in and, again, provides me with something new and different while not forcing me to go too far out of my comfort zone. I’ve fallen in love with the city of Long Beach in the past few years and I would really like to live there.

Other than Long Beach, I am looking at UCLA, UC Davis, UC Irvine, and UC Riverside. All of those would be fantastic schools to go to and offer me something new and exciting as I continue on this journey. My plan is to get my bachelor’s in English or creative writing; if I can, I would also like to double major in comparative literature.

What are your long-term goals? What do you aspire to?

I don’t really have any super glamorous aspirations, to be honest. Most important to me is that I have the stability and means to live a happy and comfortable life while working on my creative projects. Just living modestly and working to support my passion of writing books and coming up with new and interesting stories to share with people is more than enough for me. The most ambitious part of these goals is just that I want to do it all: I don’t want to just stop at books, I want to make games, work in film and theater, maybe even help work on a TV show (independent or otherwise). It’s a lot to ask for and the networking is the most important and probably the hardest part for me, but I don’t want to give up on it. In the end, all I really want to do is create and be able to enjoy it.

What are you most proud of?

I think the thing that I am most proud of is honestly just finishing and moving on to the next chapter of my journey. It’s been a long time coming; I’ve been taking classes at a community college in some form since I graduated in 2010. The fact that I’m finally here, about to get my associate degree and transfer to a 4-year, is a bit surreal, and certainly overwhelming to think about.

All the great grades I’ve been getting, especially in the wake of the pandemic, I’m also very proud of. When I started in 2017, I got off to a shaky start, but I feel like when the pandemic hit, something in my brain turned over and I really forced myself to buckle down. That I think is another thing I’m very proud of: it’s one thing to do well in classes and finally get my degree, it’s another thing to do it all in the midst of a global pandemic.

What bit of advice would you give to current and future Cypress College students?

Stay on top of your work. It’s going to be tempting to goof off, especially with the easy stuff, you’ll think you’ll have plenty of time later. And then it’s the last day and you realize you have a ton of homework you need to get done that night. Speak with your counselors: for your major, for transferring, for career, all of them. Talk to them and talk honestly and listen to them.

Also, get to know your professors. Communicate with them constantly. They’re there to help you, and you are only hurting yourself by not reaching out. Not only that but be friends with them. Professors are people, too, and we’re all taking this wild ride together. Make friends with classmates if you can, but even if you’re not friends, form working professional relationships with them. It’ll be easier for all of you, and you can take these relationships with you as enter the workforce, or transfer, and will only make things better.

Is there anyone in particular you’d like to thank?

I would definitely like to thank my grandparents, because if it wasn’t for them, none of this would possible. Through all their nagging and pushing, in helping me with school supplies and classes, in getting me to school, in making sure I’m staying on top of everything, I don’t think I would be here writing this if it weren’t for them. My grandfather in particular was always on my case about school, and certainly in the moment it would frustrate or overwhelm me sometimes, but even in the moment I knew it was purely out of love, and now I can say that I’m glad he was. I would also like to thank all my professors, my counselors, and everyone else I met at Cypress who helped me and who made my life better for being a part of it.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

It’s never too late to fulfill your dream. Our society likes to make us think we work on the same timetable, that we all must achieve things by a certain age or within a certain timeframe. But that’s just not true. I started my journey here at Cypress at 25 in 2017 and I’ll be finishing it now at 31 in 2023. We all move and grow differently, and we all get to where we need to be in our own ways, and we should embrace that. To anyone who thinks they’re too old or they’ll never catch up, keep going. If I can do it, you definitely can.