"It's Now a Wonderful Life"

James Garlock, Black Hawk College
2015 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest Honorable Mention

Most of us will never really know what our lives could have been had we not made certain decisions. My life would have been very different if I had followed the same path as my high school friends. My alternative history would have been very different had I not started attending Black Hawk College, our local community college.

Without community college, I would have probably been arrested for committing violent crimes because, like my friends, I was an angry young man. My criminal record would have ruined my attempts to have a good job paying a livable wage. My personal relationships would have been affected. My friends would not have been there for me while they were in jail; like them, I had a child out of wedlock. This would not have been a wonderful life.

However, during my freshman year in high school, I decided I was going to go to college. That decision meant that I had to be one of the first in my family to graduate from high school. I worked hard to successfully complete all my high school classes and even enrolled in dual-enrollment, sitting in the front row because statistics show students sitting there do better in class. Whereas most high school graduates only have to overcome financial barriers to college, I had to also legally become emancipated from my mother because she refused to provide tax information for my college entrance forms. Being emancipated meant I also had to get a job.

In order to attend Black Hawk College and further my professional abilities, I have worked jobs that required me to know additional computer systems and to have skills beyond menial labor. Since attending community college, my acquaintances have changed; the people with whom I associate are now more career-driven than becoming "inmate of the year." Because of selecting Engineering Technology as a major, I joined the Engineering Tech Club and quickly became its President. Better yet, I am now a participant in Black Hawk College's Passport to Leadership program. My success in college gave me the confidence to seek visitation rights for my daughter so I can be a father to her, a blessing I did not experience.

In all ways, I am a nontraditional student. While the current trend is for smaller families, I am the youngest of six children. After overcoming several obstacles, I am starting community college at age 23. I am one of the first in my family to graduate from high school and the very first to attend college. It is evident that I shall graduate from Black Hawk College with my A.A.S. degree in Engineering Technology.

Because of a near-campus job, new associates, intellectual stimulation, time with my daughter, and a career path, I am now a happier young man. Since enrolling at Black Hawk College, it is now a wonderful life.