Wandering around Merced College, one can observe several distinct clusters of students scattered around campus.
When studied undisturbed, these docile herds exhibit many unique and diverse characteristics.
For instance, the Students for Social Justice might be found in the quad protesting or spreading awareness, fully equipped with fliers and microphones.
Or there's the interesting bunch that likes to congregate in front of the cafeteria, many of them clad in all black, donning band T-shirts and sporting conspicuously odd hairstyles.
Through the windows directly behind them, one can spot a group of die hard X-Box zealots and role-playing card game fans sharing a habitat in the cafeteria side rooms.
Hacky sack is being played somewhere nearby while the music building steps harbor a handful of novice guitar players.
And then there are the handball enthusiasts, shamelessly opting to go shirtless and drenched in sweat.
Welcome to Merced College.
These idiosyncratic groups inhabiting Merced College's campus display a wide range of talents, hobbies, and interests.
But unlike the cliques created in the high school caste system, where factions are formed based on fairly artificial and shallow criteria, there are concrete, palpable differences contrasting college students from one another.
In my years at Merced College, I have happened upon several different species of the elusive Community College Student. You have already met some of them; I will now introduce you to the rest.
A growing breed at Merced College is the teenage student group who are still in high school. Whether they are participating in an advanced school program or are just ambitious home-schooled kids, these timid creatures can be found in various introductory courses (curiously, they seem to be the overwhelming majority in human sexuality classes).
While some of these students, usually between 15 and 17 years old, confess that their attendance is in part motivated by the prospect of being invited to a college party, most of these students are highly intelligent and are making a great head start in their lives.
Of the students who have already graduated high school, many factors contribute to their choice to attend Merced College.
For many, Merced is the most convenient and financially prudent choice for higher education.
Several are still trying to figure out what field or career to get into, prompting them to take an array of courses to see where their interests lie.
Consequently, I know students who have been attending Merced College for -- this is not a misprint -- nine years.
Others enroll merely to meet more basic needs, such as eligibility for certain health care providers or for the sacred, indispensable financial aid check.
I even heard a teacher comment that one of her students admitted he attended Merced College simply to appease his wife and keep her from leaving.
But the sad truth is that some of these students didn't choose Merced College at all.
These unfortunate peers of mine were rejected by their choice four-year universities and now find themselves with no other viable options.
In fact, some feel as though the high school system has failed by not adequately preparing them for university level education.
These students argue that high schools are primarily focused on achieving high standardized test scores rather than sufficiently preparing pupils.
Thus, these students must turn to community colleges to pick up the slack and bring them up to speed before prospering at a four year university.
One of the more inspiring brands of students at Merced College is the "older folks" crowd. Individuals in this clan might be easy to spot because of their respectable, albeit antiquated attire and their immense amount of knowledge and wisdom that can only come from being over 40.
Indeed, discontent with their current job or dissatisfied with living from paycheck to paycheck, some are pursuing education as a means to redirect their lives and better themselves.
Others are seeking to return to old dreams relinquished long ago, forsaken at the hands of monetary demands or poor life decisions.
But again, attending Merced College isn't always a choice, even for my lovable, timeworn compatriots. The turbulent state or our economy has provoked both the working and stay-at-home crowd to seek out higher degrees as a way to become more competitive in the job market.
It is worth mentioning that these "older folks" who undertake the arduous task of returning to school are a highly respectable group.
I commend any man or woman who has yet to give up and return to school, subjecting themselves to a world of kids half their age, all the while having to balance families and full-time jobs in one hand with homework and rigidly fixed school schedules in the other.
This brief introduction to the students of Merced College merely scratched the surface of the multifarious groups and individuals that attend.
Community colleges cultivate environments teaming with genuine diversity and opportunity, and Merced is no exception.
A wide range of students from starkly different ages, ideologies, and backgrounds can affordably access a quality college education, and Merced College is richer because of it.
Jonathan Benton is a student at Merced College.