Elgin Community College student Ruth Chae of Elgin won top honors in the 2018 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest. Chae, who hopes to pursue an Associate of Applied Science degree in nursing from ECC this spring, says winning the award has been her proudest academic achievement to date, adding “I’m so blessed to think that my essay will have the ability to positively impact the lives of those who read it.”
The Paul Simon Student Essay Contest is co-sponsored by the Illinois Community College Trustees Association (ICCTA) and the Illinois Community College System Foundation (ICCSF). Currently enrolled full- and part-time Illinois community college students are eligible for the competition. The essay contest is named after the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, a founder and longtime supporter of the Illinois community college system.
Chae was one of 15 finalists throughout Illinois. She was a guest of honor at ICCTA's June 1 awards banquet in Springfield, where she was presented with a $500 scholarship.
“Caged to Changed”
By Ruth Chae
Elgin Community College
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? 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 statistics 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.