"How My Community College Has Changed My Life"

Teresa Zuniga, Moraine Valley Community College
2016 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest Honorable Mention

Over the few years of attending Moraine Valley Community College, I have entered a few essay contests and book scholarships, and the topics have been very similar. I chose to write about my life up to that point, my abusive marriage, divorce, and life as a single mom. Moraine and the teachers of Moraine all had a hand in my eventual triumph over those circumstances, and I am grateful.

But I have been changed in other subtle, but no less life-altering ways.

Moraine Valley Community College student Teresa Zuniga accepts her $250 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest scholarshipfrom ICCTA vice president Linda Liddell.

Moraine Valley Community College student Teresa Zuniga accepts her $250 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest scholarship from ICCTA vice president Linda Liddell.
One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome when going through any type of hardship is the sense that you are alone, that you are helpless, and that no one else could possibly understand what you are going through. As I weaved my way through COM 101, Art Appreciation, and Environmental Studies, I became friendly with a few students or overhead conversations of their daily lives. The one constant in the majority of these conversations was the undeniable sacrifices these students were willing to make for their education. Many worked two jobs (just like me), many were single moms or dads (just like me), and many were in unbelievably difficult home situations. Some were bleary-eyed after working all day or night, several took the bus, and sometimes we had students sharing textbooks because they could not afford their own. But they SHOWED UP.

Every single class, every semester, I have had my point of view expanded. I feel a community college encompasses exactly what the name implies. It is a community of young and old, professionals and nonprofessional, new students and returning students, hobbyists and career-oriented students, all seeking knowledge, renewal and opportunity.

I am a 45-year-old mother of five, and I have never once felt out of place. I had many preconceived ideas of the students I might run into (young, carefree, limited responsibility, 18- and 19-year-olds), and I am ashamed that I almost didn't give many of them a chance. I have learned some 18-year-olds have lived a much harder life than me, some 20-year-olds have already been deployed twice while in service to our , and some 30-year-olds have suffered from homelessness.

Moraine Valley Community College has taught me to be empathetic, humble, and to never judge a book by its cover. We are all seeking acceptance, opportunity, and a chance to make a difference. My life may have had its difficulties, but I have learned I am not alone, and as I look around my classroom, I do not just see students – I see friends, I see bright futures, I see a community.