"Of Generous Gardeners"
Christine Pemberton, Elgin Community College
2007 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest Winner
Eight years ago, I was a sixth grader who was about to walk into a future I could not have fathomed.
My sister, older by six years, was beginning her descent into drug addiction. Addiction is a downward
spiral, and it ripped into my home like a tornado, tearing the place to shreds.
While my sister was becoming a junkie and my parents were preoccupied with her, I began withdrawing.
I became more and more lonely, eventually plunging on my own downward spiral into a severe depression.
My report cards dropped suddenly from A's and B's to straight D's. By the time I graduated high school,
my GPA was shot, and there was no way I could get into a good college.
Elgin Community College student Christine
Pemberton (third from left) accepts her $500
scholarship from ICCTA president Kathy Wessel, Illinois Community College System Foundation
board member Jim Berkel, and ECC president David Sam.
But, for whatever reason,
I told myself that I couldn't give up. I knew what I wanted to do – become a psychologist and grow
into an adult who would help people like me.
I enrolled at Elgin Community College. I saturated myself in the material, becoming an "A" and "B" student
again. School distracted me from my otherwise fractured life. I wanted to crank out the A's so that I could
be accepted into a far-away school and leave home for good. But, as it turned out, school would be much more
than just a mere distraction. I came to see that learning could be about more than just grades – it could be
My teachers served as generous gardeners, sprinkling water on me, a withered flower. My Intro to Fiction teacher
showed me the tragedy of Kafka's "hunger artist," a man doomed by his own hapless pursuit of integrity.
I reflected that I, too, was a hunger artist, searching for a way to both be one with the world and to not
betray my secret self. Also, my creative writing teacher taught me what it was to be a person who lived and
breathed her work with each ounce of her being. She told me that, while it's hard to remain a loving and giving
person in this harsh world, it's worth it. Finally, my Intro to Asian Philosophy instructor schooled me in,
among other things, Buddhism and Taoism. This helped me develop my love of these philosophies, and I later
decided to attend a school where I could major in Buddhist philosophy.
When transferring a flower from one pot to another, it has to first be healthy and strong or it won't survive the
move. I see ECC as a building full of generous gardeners tending to their nursery of students, giving just the right
amount of nourishment to each of us. Upon graduating, they release us gently on our way. Our petals pop open one
by one, introducing us to the world. In my case, thanks to ECC, I am now strong enough to pull up my roots and
move to a new town; one where I can take root, bloom, and finally, stretch out into the sunlight.
Christine Pemberton 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
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