"An Academy for the Non-Traditional:
How John A. Logan College Has Changed My Life . . . Twice . . ."
By Timothy J. MIles, John A. Logan College
Honorable Mention, 2001 Paul Simon Student Essay
You'd have had to live on the moon to not notice the distinction, and you'd have had to
have the personality of yogurt to not appreciate the irony. The bow-tied man with the
unmistakable countenance and the bass tones whose voice would represent both the powerful
suburban Chicago interests and the multicultural Cook County interests, the senior
senator from the great state of Illinois, hailed from below I-80, below I-74, below I-64,
in a town no bigger than the whisker of a deer he'd find in his backyard. Former U.S.
Senator Paul Simon, D-Makanda, was as non-traditional a representative as perhaps you
could find in the annals of American politics. He is also the perfect icon to represent
the merits of John A. Logan College -- a community college that has changed my life
not once, but twice.
In 1993, as a 22-year-old set adrift searching for an identity, I met a man who was a
part-time instructor at John A. Logan – a place I'd driven by many times but never
entered. I had been in and out of school, in and out of work, in and out of many things
of which I'm not altogether proud. He introduced me to the theater, and it was there
that I began to finally feel comfortable and not trapped in my own skin.
Over the next seven years, I occasionally took a class at John A., but for the most part
I honored their nickname as a volunteer, and they honored the "community" part of community
college. In this time, I learned no mathematics, no biology, Spanish, or nursing. Yet it is
without a doubt that John A. Logan College instructed me in the grand classes of life and
self and what it means to be a part of a wonderful community in southern Illinois.
Towards the end of 2000, John A. Logan College was there for me again as I fell victim
to budget cuts at the company for whom I had worked for the better part of five years.
Faced with accepting one of several job offers and relocating or remaining a member of
this community and learning to accept a new degree of fiscal responsibility, I chose the
latter and went back to school.
Though accepted to Southern Illinois University's Radio-Television program, I was unable
to afford the tuition. Needing to take several general education courses, though, allowed
me to re-enter the halls of John A. Logan College this semester. Using parts of my brain
for the first time since the other Bush was in the Oval Office, Logan has taken me to
even greater heights of self-worth, self-determination, and self-discipline. Today I
make less money that I have in five years, and I can confidently say that I am happier
than I've been since perhaps the first time I took a bow from the stage of Logan's
O'Neil Auditorium many years ago.
So now I stand before you what they call a "non-traditional" student. I find that term
amusing, though I'll proudly wear that badge with honor. You'll have to order several
thousand badges, though, because I challenge you to argue that each student -- both
walking through the halls along Route 13 and entering the doorways of the extension
centers in surrounding counties -- is anything but a non-traditional student.
From every fresh-faced Reagan-era born child trying to establish an identity, to the
working single mother, to the former coal miner trying to evolve from a lifestyle his
family's known for generations, to me -- a just-turned-30 farmkid from a small town who's
finally found his place in the world, whether we're conscious of it or not, John A.
Logan College has profoundly changed each of us. It has welcomed our quirks and embraced
our differences in age, culture, and financial means. This Community College has
become an academy for the non-traditional -- a public and open factory of growth,
knowledge and liberty, and it has done so with all the grace and beauty and patience
that are the very staples of life in southern Illinois. The former senior Senator from
this great state should be proud.
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