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Letters From Graduates

For eight Elgin Community College graduates, their path through college may vary, but their goal is the same: to succeed. As they prepare to embark on their bright future, the President’s Report asked them to reflect on what motivated them to succeed. They also offered advice for graduating high school seniors and future ECC students.

Eustacio Baldazo, Jr

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I met many welcoming and inspiring people; I made many lasting friendships; and I got involved with the many interesting activities that Phi Theta Kappa put together. I would definitely recommend joining a club, any club, to get involved with our college and be a part of everything that happens on campus. You will realize that your days are more exciting, and when you get involved, you guide your own college adventure.

It all started in 2007, when I began attending Northern Illinois University.  Fresh out of high school and finally on my own. I had the whole world in front of me.  But perhaps it was too much.  After just two semesters at NIU, I was suspended due to extremely poor academic performance. The fall semester following my termination from NIU, I was at it again, although this time I decided to stay closer to home. I chose Elgin Community College.   During my first and second semesters at ECC, I only passed one class and I was placed on academic supervision and ultimately probation. I was not allowed to return to ECC for a full semester. At that time I had completely given up on school.  I left ECC with a GPA of .70.

I took a lot of time off from the academic world and pursued a career as a service technician in the water restoration business.  After two years of working full-time, I decided that my heart was not in it.  I wanted to go back to school to pursue the dream I’ve had since I was a child; I wanted to be a police officer.

 So I made an appointment with the associate dean of counseling, at ECC, John Coffin, who told me that I needed to write an essay explaining why I deserved to be let back in and what my plan of action was to achieve my goals.  I nervously took to the keyboard and poured my heart out.  I remember reading the reacceptance letter like it was yesterday, “They let me back in!!”

Even though it took some time for me to truly find out what I wanted to do with my life, I am proud to say that on May 17, I graduated with my Associate of Applied Science Degree in Criminal Justice with a 3.8 program GPA and High Honors! At one point, my future began to look bleak and even though it took me nearly seven years to achieve this goal, I think it’s safe to say that I have turned my life around.  This has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life and I would not trade it for the world. 

- Eustacio Baldazo, Jr., Elgin

Samuel Gill

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My experience at Elgin Community College has been thoroughly rewarding. It is magnificent how one decision would change my whole future for the better.

With the omnipotent anxiety that college brings, my strategy of choosing a college became relieving when I decided to consider Elgin Community College. Many high school seniors are reluctant to begin their collegiate career at ECC. Most often, they are blinded by the facts that it is “too close to home” or “too small” and desires such as wanting a “true college experience.” First, let me say that ECC chose me before I agreed to choose ECC. From welcoming me with an open atmosphere the first time I was on campus to all the merit scholarships that I was able to earn, the path to my future was inevitably paved through ECC. By the time I was ready to commit to ECC, the college had already developed an enthusiastic connection with me. Instantaneously, ECC became my new home.

My largest obstacle in college has been time management. As a full-time student, it became hard to manage two part-time jobs, volunteerism, and family commitments, in addition to my honors curriculum. However, by overcoming this obstacle, I have developed into a much more mature individual. By persevering through all the challenges of a college lifestyle, ECC has equipped me with all of the proper tools I need to flourish in the future.

My advice for graduating seniors is simple: “Don’t look too far, the answer is right in front of you.” My experience at Elgin Community College has been thoroughly rewarding. It is magnificent how one decision would change my whole future for the better. I am so thankful for the impact that Elgin Community College has had on me. Because of ECC, I am a better person and a stronger student. I have been provided with a foundation that will continue to support me for the rest of my life. Finally, I know I will continue to succeed as I transfer to the University of Illinois and major in accountancy.

- Samuel Gill, Pingree Grove

Adriana Guzman

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During my last semester at Elgin Community College, I learned to value every minute I am given. There are twenty four hours in a day, and some use those hours more wisely than others. Thankfully, ECC has demonstrated to me how much can be done with that time, and I truly believe I will use my time wisely from here on out.

During my final year of high school at St. Charles East, everyone encouraged me to attend Elgin Community College because it was affordable and an excellent route. Within a few weeks into my first semester, I knew they were right and that I had made a great decision.

I immediately felt connected to the student body thanks to Student Life. I have had the honor of meeting a variety of people through campus activism and have built a strong network. I also took advantage of ECC’s academic variations with professors who are ready to challenge their students intellectually. This has helped me grow profoundly, and I now feel completely prepared to continue my education at a four-year institution.

As a full-time student, I worked over 20 hours per week, and as a student leader, time management and discipline became more important to me. I thought I knew how to manage my time, until I was loaded with class assignments, clubs duties, and work responsibilities. During my last semester at ECC, I learned to value every minute I am given. There are 24 hours in a day, and some use those hours more wisely than others. Thankfully, ECC has demonstrated to me how much can be done with that time, and I truly believe I will use my time wisely from here on out.

I encourage all graduating seniors to attend ECC and become involved with the community. The academics are challenging and prepare you for the future. The Student Life is inviting and fun! And everyone on campus is rooting for you! ECC strives to see its students succeed.

- Adriana Guzman, St. Charles

Belda Kousonsanong

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It is such an honor to graduate from such a great institution. My advice for graduating high school seniors is not to be afraid to speak up and ask for guidance. Follow your dreams, and even when people tell you it isn’t possible, you should believe in yourself. No obstacle is greater than one’s determination.

I always wanted to become a nurse since I was a little girl and Elgin Community College has always been my choice and part of that plan since I stared here in 1998. But I didn’t know how much those plans would change.

Within two years, life fell apart for me as I juggled caring for my child, working third shift in a factory, and going to ECC full-time. I missed milestones with my daughter, failed exams, and was late for work. After making the decision to leave ECC to work and become the mother that she deserves, I chose to wait till my daughter was older to come back. Ten years later, I was back!

I earned an associate in Liberal Studies in 2013. This year, I earned an associate in applied science in Office Administration and Technology with high honors. I am truly blessed!

I am successful today because of my support system: my three children, parents, fiancée, friends, mentors, everyone in the Office Administration and Technology program, the childcare on campus, and the business program. ECC has done so much for me in so many ways as I never received this type of support anywhere else. My plans after graduation is to still attend ECC because I am transferring to Columbia College of Missouri right here on campus. My ideal dream would be to work at ECC. I have so much to give back to the school that made me who I am today. Everything does happen for a reason. ECC was, is, and will always be my reason and my choice!

My advice for graduating seniors is to keep your minds and hearts open. The doors are always open here and there are many resources that ECC offers. Just walk through!

- Belda Kousonsanong, Elgin

Armando Martinez

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If it was not for ECC I would not be where I am now. The support you receive here is amazing. I’m glad I decided to attend ECC and it is a bittersweet feeling that I’ll be leaving, but because of ECC I am ready to face the challenges. I feel confident in myself that I can do anything and that’s all possible because I chose the bright choice.

I chose Elgin Community College because it was the bright choice to make. I knew I wanted to have a bright future. But as a first generation student the idea of transferring to a university seemed intimidating.

I cannot express how happy I am to have made it this far within my life. If you asked me where I saw myself in 2014, I would probably have said I have no clue. I’m glad I chose to attend ECC because my experiences here have truly made all the difference and have influenced my success. Getting where I am now was not easy. I had struggled along the way, but that’s what made my experience as an ECC student special. From dealing with my mom’s drug addiction, almost losing our home, hungry nights, and family dysfunctions, one would think that a college student would not be able to push through. That’s not the case for me. I have dealt with a lot of pain and anger in my life, but I learned that life is too precious to let the struggles affect my decisions or get in the way of achieving my dream. I would not be human if I did not say I wanted to give up at times because I did. I got involved on campus in student organizations and channeled my energy to make a difference on campus and in my community. If it was not for ECC I would not be where I am now. I feel confident in myself that I can do anything and that’s all possible because I chose the bright choice.

My advice to graduating seniors reading this is to never give up and do not let anything bring you down. Push forward and stay optimistic because you are here for a reason and although it seems easy to quit, it is rewarding when you continue on your journey. Take advantage of the resources here on campus and be proactive during your time as an ECC student. Stand up and get involved on campus and in your community.

ECC has become a safe sanction for me and I cannot thank ECC enough for changing my life for the better. I’m truly blessed to be faced with the support and opportunities ECC has to offer. Thank you ECC for staying true to your mission and improving the lives of others.

- Armando Martinez, Elgin

Charmaine McAllister

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The ECC Foundation and the AAWCC scholarships have allowed me to focus on my education without additional financial worries.  My involvement in organizations such as TRiO and Phi Theta Kappa has been a source of support in numerous ways. They provided activities that brought balance to my new college life.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been passionate about music and arts. As an adult, I have come to realize it is a big part of my purpose on the planet. After experiencing briefly, a music career that was taking off and shared numerous platforms with national and internationally known artists such as M.C. Hammer, I lost it all in 2001.

I found myself at rock bottom and crippled by depression. Life had been unkind, filled with abuse and rejection, which made it difficult to make progress consistently. November 2010, I finally decided to take control and create the life I wanted to live. I walked away from my painful past and found myself penniless and no place to call home. All I had was God, my suitcase and dreams. While some people retreat to mental asylums, I decided to return to school to rehabilitate my mind. I knew in my core that continuing my education would be a tool to help me lay a new foundation and give me that fresh start I needed.

I found myself in a strange land called Elgin. In January 2011, I stumbled into Elgin Community College and began my journey as a non-traditional student. Chris Lawrence and Amybeth Maurer have been pillars in my progress from the beginning. The guidance of counselors and deans has kept me on course in some of my most difficult times. The ECC Foundation and the American Association for Women in Community Colleges (AAWCC) scholarships have allowed me to focus on my education without additional financial worries.  My involvement in organizations such as TRiO and Phi Theta Kappa has been a source of support in numerous ways. They provided activities that brought balance to my new college life. Being a music major, the music and arts instructors have made it possible for me to develop my craft while gaining new found confidence.  I am constantly encouraging classmates to get involved because ECC’s faculty really does care about our success.

As graduation is quickly approaching I feel I am ready to soar to new heights and continue to make my mark in the world. I experienced my rebirth here at Elgin Community College. I feel alive for the first time in my life. I will be graduating from ECC with my associate in fine arts and I plan on continuing my education as well as performing and producing life changing music. My brand new single “Bustin Out” is scheduled to be released very soon!! Now it's time for me to spread my wings and fly.

- Charmaine McAllister, Elgin

Molly Schoenherr

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If I could give any advice to incoming students at ECC, I would tell them to take advantage of these opportunities. These projects, events, and organizations have been my ‘real college experience,’ and I feel so honored to have had such a wonder first two years of higher education.

From the time my high school peers started filling out their applications for their prospective four year universities our senior year, I knew I wanted to start my educational path at Elgin Community College. I knew my financial limits, and by choosing ECC, I was avoiding a stockpile of loans. Staying around Elgin would also allow me to contribute to a community that had already given me so much.  Upon revealing this plan to the people I knew, I countlessly heard this statement: “You’re going to miss out on the real college experience.” At first this statement intimidated me. Now I look back at this naive statement and realize the myth that it is.  

As a student at ECC, I served as the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society Service Officer, helped organize the Honors Student Council, organized visits to Food for Greater Elgin, created the literacy project Chapters for Children, was selected as a member of the All-Illinois Academic Team, and met many talented people through the campus’ writing club. All of these organizations have given me opportunities to travel to different parts of the state and country, helped me discover my passion for English, and allowed me to attend many enriching events. If I could give any advice to incoming students at ECC, I would tell them to take advantage of these opportunities. These projects, events, and organizations have been my “real college experience,” and I feel so honored to have had such a wonderful first two years of higher education. I look forward to attending the University of Illinois at Chicago this fall.

- Molly Schoenherr, Algonquin

Atoy Spates

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I would just like to encourage any senior who wisely chooses Elgin Community College to take advantage of everything this place has to offer. I don’t consider myself a different person after my experience here, I consider myself a truer version of myself. If you allow yourself to fully jump in and linger, I promise you will learn things and be inspired far beyond what you could imagine.

I once heard a friend explain that there are two types of tea drinkers in the world; there are people who dip their tea bag a few times, then take it out, and those who drop their tea bag in, letting the water soak up all of the flavor possible. I have recently come to realize that I am the latter. Not only as a passionate tea drinker, but a person.

I originally signed up at Elgin Community College to take a few music classes to prepare me for a Worship Arts program that I wanted to move to right after High School. However, after taking my first class, I knew I had more here to “soak up” before moving along. So here I am, a few years later, finally preparing to take my tea bag out.

My time at ECC has truly been life changing. After my decision to stick around longer, I threw myself in everything that I could. I joined clubs, went to events, and even worked here in the Student Life and First Year Programs Office, as a Spartan Leader and Peer Leader. The friendships I have formed, teachers I have learned from, and experiences I have had here have been so much more helpful to the person I am still growing into, than if I had rushed off after my first semester here. Deciding to stay here longer to get my associates degree is one of the decisions in my life that I am most thankful for. However, it did come with its challenges. Like every college student, I have had to learn lessons of balance, discipline, focus, and commitment. While learning those lesson, about half way through my time here, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. After pushing through that spring semester, working and helping my mom through recovery, I had to put school on hold. I wasn’t sure what my future would look like after that with fears of never being able to finish school running through my mind. Something I’ll always be thankful for is that aside from the support of friends and family, the faculty and staff here at ECC were so supportive.

After a year and a half I was able to come back to school full time to finish my last year. The beautiful thing about graduating this semester, is that it not only marks the struggles that I have been able to overcome to reach graduation, but it marks my mother’s recovery and health. We are winners of both of our battles and I could not be more thankful for such an inspiration.

I would like to encourage any senior who wisely chooses Elgin Community College to take advantage of everything this place has to offer. If you allow yourself to fully jump in and linger, I promise you will learn things and be inspired far beyond what you could imagine.

- Atoy Spates, Elgin