"How My Community College Changed My Life"

Zakiyyah Ali, Prairie State College
2011 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest -- Honorable Mention

Many believe that community colleges are for failures, the poor, and incapable, but I have found that this is hardly the case. My name is Zakiyyah Ali, and I attend Prairie State College, a community college in Chicago Heights, Illinois.

I found that my educational experience here has changed my life tremendously. The faculty provided me with the tools I needed to succeed. They offered extra help and guidance, and they opened doors to career opportunities.

However, before I go into my college experience, I will tell my story from the beginning.

Prairie State College student Zakiyyah Ali received Honorable Mention in ICCTA's 2011 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest.

I was a typical high school senior. I was somewhat popular, I played on a varsity sports team, and I was almost legally an adult. This may seem like the story of someone headed on the path to success, which wasn't even remotely close to the truth. I was failing three classes, and my GPA was a 1.5 on a four-point scale. I managed to raise my grades enough to graduate, but not enough to be accepted into a university. When it came to applying to colleges, I didn't even bother. I felt defeated, confused, and like I had failed at life.

At that time, my only option was the local community college, which happened to be Prairie State. When friends and family would ask about my college plans, I was embarrassed to tell them I was going to Prairie State. I had disappointed my parents and let down my younger brothers as a role model.

On my first day of class, I immediately felt a different vibe than before. All of my professors were committed to teaching and to learning about their students. They delivered excellent instruction and immediately opened themselves up for help.

All of my teachers have been phenomenal, but the one who has stood out the most is John Flannigan. I enjoyed his class so much that I enrolled in another class with him. He is, with no exaggeration, a walking encyclopedia. If he doesn't know the answer to something, he will have it figured out by the next class. He always challenged me to maximize my potential. It is obvious that he is passionate about teaching and learning.

Most importantly, he helped me choose a career path. As a result, I began taking art classes during my third semester and immediately felt welcomed by my professor, Paul Rinaldi. After fine-tuning my techniques and skills, I learned what it is I wanted to do with my life and decided to major in graphic design. I received acceptance letters from two of the three schools to which I applied.

I am still waiting for a letter from my top choice, but I am optimistic. This is what my community college has done for me. Not only did my community college change my life, it saved my life. With the support and encouragement to do my best, I now feel prepared to conquer the world.