When I began my journey at Elgin Community College, graduating with my Associate in Science appeared to me like an impossible goal to achieve. I felt this way for many reasons, and it seemed that there were more reasons why I would not make it than reasons why I could.
First, I was a high school dropout. I was 22 and had not taken a single math course since 8th grade, and had barely received an education past one semester of freshman year in high school. During my younger years, I struggled immensely with anxiety and depression. After dropping out of high school at 17, I obtained my GED. Second, I was undocumented, making obtaining a higher education even more difficult. Despite being in the U.S. for 21 out of the 22 years of my life, I was still held back by this status, as I knew I did not qualify for financial aid like FAFSA. Third, I had tried to get my degree before, but those pesky mental health issues knocked me down. I identified as a college dropout. I had all of these labels that the world had given me and took on myself, and I felt the weight of a mountain trying to persevere through them all. I did not believe in myself, but ECC did.
When my best friend passed away in May of 2017, it shook me. It stirred something in me. I realized I did not want to keep my potential inside me. I committed to my education and adopted a mindset of "no matter what." I didn't know how I would achieve this. I was going to try and give it everything I had, no matter what.
I began taking classes and worked insane hours at a restaurant to pay for my courses. I was willing to do whatever it would take to change my life, and ECC was willing to do the same for me. At first, it was my psychology professor Danielle Straub, who, when I asked for an assignment extension and explained my situation to her, struck a deal with me. She told me that if I promised to go to John Long, dean of students, and allow him to help me find resources, then she would grant me the extension. I accepted, and my journey truly began.
Over the next few years, I came across professors, staff, advisors, donors, and wellness professionals who cultivated a belief in me that I did not have on my own. I even got financial help and scholarships despite my status. I would not be here today if it were not for each individual hand that kept pulling me up when I felt so hopeless, for every professor who poured their knowledge into me as a student, and for the countless staff that was always there with a welcoming smile and a hand stretched out towards me.
It took me a few years longer than most to finish this degree, but I wouldn't trade those extra years. I was shaped by the experiences in my classes, by my professors and their willingness to push me, and by the spirit of our community. I volunteered, found the courage to speak at events, learned how to play classical guitar, became a part of Phi Theta Kappa, the honors program, the honors advisory, president of the math honors society, a scholarship recipient, and a person of substance and respect. I visited Fermi Lab with my classmates, helped my community, and found inspiration, guidance, and purpose in my life. ECC taught me the importance of helping oneself and allowing others to help you, and being of service to others. It is the spirit of our school which I will carry with me everywhere I go for the rest of my life, for if it wasn't for this place, I am not sure that I would be where and who I am today.
Today, I am at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the College of Engineering, pursuing a degree in Computer Science with a minor in Mathematics. I transferred there through the guaranteed pathway, a partnership between the university and ECC. My goal is to use this degree to work at Fermi Lab one day. I also want to return to ECC in the future and give back. I would like to start a scholarship to give to other undocumented students like myself.
I am deeply grateful for all that ECC has done for me. I am grateful for all the lessons, help, and opportunities that have been so freely and kindly given to me. I am humbled to have been able to attend this school. I want to thank my professors for all they have taught me and for believing in me. I want to thank the staff, from the lunch ladies to the advisors to the janitors and every staff member who keeps this place running. I want to thank all the donors who helped me achieve my dream of higher education. I hope going forward, I can be an honorable representation of our school and what it means to be a Spartan.
Sincerely, thank you.
Diana Rodriguez '22
Associate in Science
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