You’re not really the academic type. Some people just aren’t meant to go to college. You’re more of a people person with life skills. These are just a few of the statements that were directed toward me as I was figuring out what to do after high school. Add those statements to getting pregnant three weeks after graduating from high school. Now you have a single mother who waited tables for years. It was pretty easy to justify to myself not going on for a higher education. Now add two more children and still a single mother. I found myself in survival mode — working to pay bills, buy diapers, pay a mortgage, etc.
It wasn’t until I did a “mirror check” at age 30 that I realized that the continued cycle of “jobs” wasn’t creating any stability for my children or myself. It was at this point that I decided gaining a degree would solidify my resume and open up more opportunities for a career. After sitting down with my three children and discussing my decision, I explained that this was not going to be an easy road. I would need to work multiple jobs with various hours, and my school schedule would consist of day and night classes as well as carving out time at home to focus on my online courses.
I started ICC in the summer of 2008 and walked in to my first class like a fish out of water. I had zero confidence in my academic ability, I was much older than the majority of students, and I was constantly stressing about finances and childcare. Students who had recently graduated from high school were catching up with their friends regarding topics completely irrelevant to my life or circumstances. It took many classes for me to become comfortable in my role as a student. I remember crying for hours over algebra because I just didn’t get it. I scraped through Biology 110 by the skin of my teeth, while other students were acing the course because they were coming in fresh out of high school. Mitochondria and polynomials were terms that I hadn’t heard or used in at least 15 years.
I persevered. I met with my teachers multiple times a week and utilized the labs that offered free tutoring. The patience and understanding from the professors were reassuring and helped me to continue with my education. I will never forget the moment I realized that I was taking 18 hours of classes, working three jobs, raising three kids and had all A’s. This was my third semester, mind you. The first two semesters I finished with a C in science and a D in a business course, which led me to seek out changing my major from business administration to communication.
I became quite competitive with myself and all of those “naysayers” from high school who told me I was not academically inclined. Not only was I going to get my degree, but I was going to get really great grades while doing so. I found a confidence in myself that I never dreamed existed. Before long, I was on the President’s List and the Dean’s List, and I transferred into Bradley with a GPA of 3.6. This opened up academic scholarships that would not have been available if it weren’t for my time at ICC. More importantly, I grew as a person during those two years. I realized that I was completely capable at excelling academically. I was an example to my children. I was more confident than I had ever been.
Graduating magnum cum laude from Bradley was one of the proudest moments of my life. Yes, I worked very hard, and I persevered through tragedies, sleepless nights, raising kids (my mother and a close family friend were an amazing support with my children during those years), financial strain, academic struggles and “life,” but I did it. I have a career, the respect of my children and peers, and a confidence that carries me daily through life.
Life happens, but trusting yourself enough to take chances, even when it doesn’t seem possible can and will change your life. It did mine. It all started with the opportunities that were given to me from Illinois Central College. I am eternally grateful.