"Hoisting Sails at My Community College"

By Laurie Reeves, Illinois Central College
2001 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest Winner

I was drowning in busywork and boredom. My overload of duties with developmentally disabled adults made it nearly impossible to meet their great needs, and the pace was furious and physically demanding. Often my breaks were interrupted by urgent client needs. For me, work breaks were little more than gossip sessions and small talk anyway. Life swirled about me, but the undercurrents of boredom and frustration were pulling me down.

As I struggled to stay afloat, my children were earning college degrees. I was amazed (and a little envious) that my kids were in full throttle earning diplomas. In contrast, I had married and had a child by the age of 20. Back then, thoughts of attending college sent waves of fear washing over me. But 22 years later, I began to crave the opportunities that my children were achieving.

At first, I ventured timidly. Shaking a little, I dialed the number for "Adult Re-entry" at Illinois Central College. Later, I sat in front of Ken Williams, my academic counselor. I hesitated.

"I think I'll start with just one class," I mumbled apologetically. My cowardice embarrassed me. Then came Ken's reassuring reply.

"Perfectly alright," he answered warmly.

I enrolled in Psychology 110 and floated out of the building on a rising swell of excitement. That day, I raised tentative sails to catch the breeze, and all the days since have been full-blown acceptance from teachers, students, and staff.

The instructors at my community college have been amazing. In Nancy Varness' American Literature class, daily journal requirements honed my writing skills, and her sincere responses to each of my written entries were extremely encouraging to me. In my World Literature class, Dr. Sullivan loved to play the "devil's advocate," cleverly teaching me to re-examine my assumptions.

Ron Kirkwood's gift was comparing a character like Chaucer's Pardoner to a modern-day equivalent like the tele-evangelist Jimmy Swaggert. Mr. Kirkwood brought English literature to life for me. He also taught me to recognize famous poetry. One day, during the ballot-counting controversy of the recent presidential election, I heard a political opinion expressed on the radio. "Had we but world enough, and time," the voice intoned. I snapped to attention at this famous line of poet Andrew Marvell's, the very one that Mr. Kirkwood had recited in my class.

As I recognize historical references in daily life, I am able to derive more meaning from what goes on around me, and that's a great feeling. In contrast to my job, learning makes me buoyant with energy and motivation, and I love attending school.

My community college, with its fantastic crew, is the ship with the lifeline that pulled me on board. My feet are firmly on deck; my eyes fixed on the horizon. My billowing confidence and an enlarging worldview propel me. As an added joy, my degree-holding children stand in the harbor, proudly cheering Mom to shore. My sails are full and there's a steady wind at my back!

Laurie Reeves of Peoria will receive a $500 scholarship for her winning essay during the Trustees Association's June 15, 2001 annual banquet in Chicago.