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‘Safe place for me to grow’ and ‘chance to break statistics’ describes CLC in winning student essays

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published May 24, 2021

College of Lake County (CLC) students were recently invited to submit an essay for the Illinois Community College Trustees Association (ICCTA) essay contest with the subject “How My Community College Has Changed My Life.” The top three winners were chosen by faculty members Larry Starzec and Easly Stahl. Those students were invited to present their essays in person to the CLC Board of Trustees.

CLC student Jose Garcia receiving his award from members of the CLC Board of TrusteesFirst place was awarded to Jose Garcia who shared his journey to graduate high school and then college after he became a teenage father. Second place went to Alma Salgado-Reyes and third place was Zarif Jabiullah Nafee. The first-place winner has the honor of being nominated for the ICCTA contest which will announce the winner at the Annual ICCTA Awards Ceremony, which takes place on Friday, June 4, in Bloomington-Normal.

Two of the top winners bravely read aloud their touching and inspirational essays.

Jose Garcia was just 17 when he became a parent and struggled to attend high school after working the night shift at McDonalds to support his family. Jose said his Hispanic family did not understand the importance of education and neither parent graduated high school. He lacked support when it came to putting school first and was discouraged by family members.

When Garcia connected with CLC, he found the support he so desperately needed. He wrote, “My community college has given me the chance to break statistics and not become just another minority, teen parent, high school dropout.”

Currently, Garcia is finishing the auto collision program at CLC and will obtain his associates degree in applied science. Jose is proud of his accomplishments and shared, “My community college will help me show my daughter what obstacles I had to face to achieve my goals in life.

Salgado-Reyes' very inspiring essay shared the financial restraints being raised by her immigrant single mother and grandmother. After graduating from high school, she was told attending her dream university would not be an option. Salgado-Reyes wrote, “I became very depressed and disappointed. I felt stuck as I would never become the artist I had dreamed about as a child.”

She enrolled in classes at CLC and pursued her associate of fine arts degree. Though it was not her dream college, Salgado-Reyes shared, “I focused on things that brought me joy and curiosity. I began to view College of Lake County as a second home, as a safe space for me to grow.” Alma later transferred to Columbia College, but due to COVID-19, she decided to come back to CLC and take a few more classes while pursuing her bachelor's degree, to which she commented, “So I went full circle.” Salgado-Reyes' goal is to become an art therapist.

Both essays share the same sentiment of gratitude for finding their niche at CLC and the satisfaction from the support and encouragement they received while attending classes and pursuing their dreams. CLC has given them opportunities and the motivation to reach their goals and evolve in way they did not think would be possible.

About College of Lake County

College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.