"How My Community College Has Changed My Life"

Karen Russ, McHenry County College
2019 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest Winner

Here I sit at a computer in the McHenry County College library among my children's friends and classmates. Of course, I am the oldest student in my classes, but for some reason, that fact does not bother me. I am proud to be returning to college after 38 years and finally following my dream of accomplishing a degree.

Once I recognized that I was no longer challenged or fulfilled by my job, I began exploring other options.

McHenry County College student Karen Russ accepts her $500 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest scholarshipfrom Illinois Community College System Foundation president Dr. Joe Kanosky.

McHenry County College student Karen Russ accepts
her $500 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest
scholarship from Illinois Community College
System Foundation president Dr. Joe Kanosky.
As I searched for a new job, I kept returning to my roots as a legal assistant. But I was thirsty for more. My research revealed that I truly desired to become a paralegal. However, to become a paralegal, I needed a college degree. After discussing the financial and time constraints with my family, I began researching McHenry County College. The results produced very positive reviews of courses and staff. It's difficult to start a new chapter in one's life, particularly while progressing to retirement age. Was I ready for the challenge? The answer was simple: Yes. And boy, am I glad I enrolled!

During my first few weeks of classes, I was delighted to learn that my community college addressed education for the 'whole student.' Being a student at my age requires relearning many things, like note-taking, focusing on lectures without distractions, reviewing materials before and after class, meeting deadlines, being organized, and the importance of getting involved and volunteering. Fortunately, I am receiving a great deal of guidance from my professors on these topics. These are techniques that were not taught in college four decades ago. By altering my learning approach with these new techniques, my retention and communication skills have greatly improved. I now have a clear career path as well as the resources and tools required for professional success.

Enrolling at McHenry County College has had a positive effect on my entire family. I feel that I am not only improving academically, but surprisingly, my family dynamics are changing as well. Every time our 18-year-old son witnesses me reading textbooks, taking notices, and doing homework, I am positively influencing his school work ethic. Equally as important are the intellectually stimulating conversations that I now have with our 20-year-old daughter. Moreover, my husband is delighted to see that I am so happy and full of enthusiasm since my return to school. It is difficult to fathom why it took me so long to enroll at McHenry County College. I will never regret beginning this track with continued learning because I am growing not only in the academic sense, but I am becoming a better person all around. My desire for a more professional career is just a few steps away, thanks to the education I am receiving at my community college.