"Caged to Changed"

Ruth Chae, Elgin Community College
2018 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest Winner

I was discouraged. I was powerless. I was lost. I was caged.

Throughout my entire academic career, I attended one incredibly small Baptist school based out of my church. A Baptist college was also instituted by my church solely for ministerial degrees and it was expected of high school graduates to attend this college. There was just one problem: I knew deep in my heart it was God's destiny for me to be a nurse, but a nursing degree was not offered at the Baptist college. I felt trapped. Would I choose to stay in the cage of other's expectations? Or would I break free and pursue my dreams of becoming a nurse?

Southeastern Illinois College student Ruth Chae accepts her $500 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest scholarshipfrom Illinois Community College System Foundation president Dr. Joe Kanosky.

Elgin Community College student Ruth Chae accepts her $500 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest scholarship from Illinois Community College System Foundation president Dr. Joe Kanosky.

Following the precedent and attending the Baptist college would have been the easy way out; but I decided to "break the mold" and attend community college. This choice flooded my life with negativity and resistance from those I least expected. The church and school administration, as an attempt to change my mind, told me that I would never be able to make it through community college. Fueled by their doubt, I was determined to prove them wrong.

My first semester of college was the definition of culture shock. For the first time in my life, I walked into a completely new building surrounded by completely new faces. I went from a high school with a total of 30 students to a single classroom containing 30 students. Like a scene from a movie, I can vividly remember standing still in the middle of the hallway drowning in a whirlwind of people. Confused and overwhelmed, my first month of college was filled with sleepless nights, tears, and reluctance to continue my education. I decided I was not going to give up and allow my doubters the satisfaction of seeing me quit.

Perseverance allowed me to slowly adjust, but it seemed as though each day I was faced with a new challenge. One of the biggest challenges I faced was defending my personal beliefs against opposing worldviews. As a Christian, I did not want to conform to the beliefs of others, but I did not know how to speak up and respectfully defend myself. I never voiced my differing beliefs, because I was so afraid of being ostracized by my classmates. Thanks to my ethics class, I realized that my beliefs were what made me different, and I should never be ashamed of what I believe. Community college helped me find my voice.

My community college has given me a new-found source of confidence, independence, and strength. I went from crying in an empty hallway on my breaks, to becoming the peer leader for my statistic math class. I became a member of Phi Theta Kappa and proved those people wrong who said I would fail. I am not the same cowardly, naive girl I was two years ago.

I am determined. I am strong. I am chasing my dreams. I am forever changed.