"How My Community College
Has Changed My Life"

By Dale Hill, Kaskaskia College
Honorable Mention, 2002 Paul Simon Student Essay

Grandpa was a sharecropper. With only a second-grade education, he planted his seeds and raised his family of seven sons and three daughters. My father, third eldest of the sons, broke new ground when he became the first person ever in the family to graduate from high school. Although Dad was very bright, it never occurred to him to go on to college. He and Grandpa shared the attitude that college was only for rich people and that you cannot change a sow's ear into a silk purse. Dad was expected to work to help support his younger brothers and sisters, and that is what he did.

When I was growing up in the same small farming town and attending Dad's same high school, that attitude had not changed. College was my dream deferred, still suited only to the rich. Like my father before me, I was expected to work after graduation to help support the family, and like my father before me, that is what I did. What followed was 20 wasted and fruitless years of unfulfilling factory jobs and retail jobs. Only last year, faced with the prospect of starting over again and with a son of my own to set an example for, did I return to my dream.

The prospect of attending college was daunting. The world I knew was greatly different from the academic world, and I was unsure that I would fit in. I was 20 years older than traditional students and was not confident that I could compete. Going to a university full-time would require a commitment of time and money that would cause hardship for my family. My wife suggested that I enroll at my local community college first. When I did, I discovered that community college acts as the perfect stepping stone between the mundane life that I wished to leave behind and the new one I wished to begin. The proximity, affordability, and flexibility offered by my local community college lessen the sacrifices my family is called upon to make. I discovered that many of my fellow students are my age or even older. Community college allows me to test the waters of an academic environment without fear of plunging in over my head. It encourages me to challenge myself and build my confidence even as it expands my horizons. My community college nourishes me and helps me to grow.

I am planting a new seed for my family now, a crop that will bear fruit for generations to come. It is an attitude different from that of my father and his father before. College education is for the rich: the rich in mind and spirit, the rich in wonder and curiosity. How has my community college changed my life? It has shown me just how rich I am.

Illinois Community College Trustees Association
401 E. Capitol Ave., Suite 200
Springfield, IL 62701-1711
217-528-2858 (phone)
217-528-8662 (fax)
ICCTA@communitycolleges.org (e-mail)

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