"Growing Up"

Joyce Woo, Kishwaukee College
2005 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest Winner

Last week, a classmate asked if I wanted to "hit the bars" with her during the weekend.

I smiled and politely declined the invitation, though flattered that this friend, a mature 22-year-old, would even consider asking an inexperienced 14-year-old to a socializing event outside the classroom.

I began attending Kishwaukee College a few years ago.

Joyce Woo (center) is the winner of ICCTA's 2005 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest.

Kishwaukee College student Joyce Woo (front)
accepts ICCTA's Paul Simon Student Essay
Contest award with KC trustee Pam Blickem and president Dr. Dave Louis.

It was obvious that I was not the conventional student – my first day of class I got lost in a jumble of people who were two feet taller than me, and scared off a few more people with my terrorized face after being offered a cigarette. Initially, my instructors, classmates, everyone could sense my self-consciousness. One instructor even asked, without knowing my age, how it felt for someone like me to be on a college campus. I was too timid to answer him, so he said, "Don't worry, you'll get over it."

The truth is, I have not gotten over it, even now. I kept staying at KC because I loved the environment. I kept taking classes, meeting new people, and being offered cigarettes. I gained a perspective on political, social and academic issues and had friendly debates about them. I met a man who was once jailed for a crime and ended up earning one of the highest GED scores, a woman who became pregnant at age 15, and a couple who fought in Iraq for 18 months. Learning about other people helped me to begin interacting in class and offering my views on different subjects. I started to sit in the front row during lecture discussions and having hallway conversations between classes. I eventually realized that I had received the opportunity to associate with various intelligent, established, and confident adults, something people my age rarely get to experience. I have had a small taste of college life – its required independence, discipline, and open-mindedness. In other words, I am thankful to be in a setting that is not only rich in academia, but also in self-discovery.

I could create an endless list of how my experience at Kishwaukee College has changed my life. Nevertheless, the one thing I will always value about KC's environment is the way it has helped me to think more broadly. It has helped me to accept the opinions of others without becoming critical. All things considered, my community college has forced me to grow up.

Yesterday, a friend of mine asked me something after walking out of her first college class – "Kish is really different from high school, isn't it?"

I replied like an old pro, "Don't worry, you'll get over it."