"How My Community College Changed My Life"
Peggy Michel, Prairie State College
2006 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest Winner
When I was about to graduate high school, my parents asked me a simple question:
"Do you want to go to college or would you like to have your bedroom redone?"
They knew my answer. I was a poor student, with a proclivity for "partying."
Much to their delight, I chose the latter, and spent many unproductive days in
my new floral bedroom sleeping off hangovers.
That simple decision three decades earlier, plus my parent's desire to keep a buck,
left my life to frequent self-doubt and financial struggle. I took the road most traveled,
deeply rutted with the weary footprints of others.
Prairie State College student Peggy Michel
(fourth from left) accepts her $500 scholarship
from Illinois Senate Majority Leader Debbie
Halvorson, Illinois Community College System
Foundation board member Richard Wilson, PSC president Paul McCarthy, and PSC trustee Peg Donahue.
A half century is almost upon me and I have three kids and two divorces
under my belt. After the second divorce, I found myself working in a grocery store wondering about my life.
Did I ever think standing for hours waiting on customers would be the most creative use of my time?
Was bringing home $125.00 a week satisfactory? Is this what I planned? That was the problem;
I hadn't planned much. Extraneous factors prodded me to examine my choices. I grew close to a few co-workers,
who were attending community college and they encouraged me to do the same.
Somewhere I realized I had left my life to circumstance. I desired choices and I was inspired to go back to school.
The academic challenge forced me to examine old myths and new possibilities. I believed I was too old to return to
school; fortunately, I realized it is the very nature of learning that makes a person "child-like." Curiosity is
the secret to eternal youth and more beneficial than Alpha Hydroxy. Also, in high school I was a student who would
not learn math because I was afraid of numbers and avoided them. When I returned to college, math was an unavoidable
requirement. I had to quash my fears and decide I could learn it. Subsequently, I achieved A's and a new love --
Originally, my major was mass communication. When I took a communications class, we were tested to determine a career
that fit our personality. As I previewed my career list, I was startled to see the word "Naturalist." Suddenly,
I remembered who I was. I was the girl who hung out in the forest all summer and I am the woman who likes to hike
and explore nature. There, on paper was the possibility for my life's work. The next semester I changed my major
Because I work ful-time and have two children at home, I will be much older when I finally see my degree.
Still, it is more about the journey than the destination. In the final analysis, how has community college changed my
life? I can't say it has changed it as much as it has expanded it, illuminated it and impressed wonder upon it.
I'm excited again and for that I am forever grateful.
Peggy Michel received a $500 scholarship for her winning essay, donated by the Illinois Community College System
Foundation. For additional information on the Paul Simon Student Essay Contest, please contact
Kim Villanueva at 1-800-454-2282, ext. 1.
Illinois Community College Trustees Association|
401 E. Capitol Ave., Suite 200
Springfield, IL 62701-1711
| Home | News
| Events | Links |