"Up From the Ashes"

Favian Apata, Prairie State College
2009 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest Winner

"Favian, your persistence in doing your duties well will bring you to the top."

These words were written by my 8th grade teacher on my graduation picture in 1967. Almost 40 years later, after coming to Prairie State College, Mrs. Worthy's words came true. Prairie State transformed my life for the better. Since becoming a student there, I have tapped into my inner self. I have discovered gifts and talents that had been buried because of rejection and low self-esteem. Prairie State taught me to love who I am.

Prairie State College student Favian Apata (left)accepts her $500 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest scholarship from State Senator Toi Hutchinson.

Prairie State College student Favian Apata (left)
accepts her $500 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest
scholarship from State Senator Toi Hutchinson.

I've learned how to smile and look in the mirror without feeling disgusted. I discovered that I may fall but I will not fail. I love Prairie State because it's a place of inner discovery and growth.

In my freshman year at Richards Vocational High School, I was an "A" student and enjoyed home economics, bookkeeping and typing. But my sophomore year was horrible because my parents separated. I had low self-esteem because I was overweight. I thought it was partly my fault my mom left because I needed to be a better daughter and lose weight. Trying to connect with someone, I met a guy and became pregnant. Pregnancy in 1969 was the equivalent of the bubonic plague. I was isolated from my female cousins for fear they might catch the disease. I enrolled in a school for pregnant girls but couldn't finish school because I had no babysitter. I worked for the phone company 33 years and retired in 2003.

In 2005, my daughter encouraged me to enroll in the GED program. I enrolled reluctantly because I was afraid of failure. The GED staff helped me become more confident. I passed the test, received a scholarship from the Prairie State College Foundation, and enrolled. My self-esteem rose when my Communications 101 professor encouraged me to sign up for the Forensics Team. The first day I felt uncomfortable and nervous, but my coaches and the team became my family. I had never won anything and won a trophy at my first tournament. I now have so many trophies I had to purchase a display shelf. When I became a forensics champion in 2007, my life turned right side up. Imagine, Favian, a national champion?

Thinking things couldn't get any better, I was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society in 2008. In 2008, I was also encouraged to run for student trustee, and I won! Serving on the board and discovering how the college works has been the highlight of my life. I have also become active in many clubs. I've spoken at the GED graduation three times and encourage the students often.

Prairie State has enabled me to travel many places -- Texas, Springfield, New York, and Washington, D.C. I tell my story wherever I go. I owe my success to the dedicated people at Prairie State. Mrs. Worthy, "Look, I'm on my way to the top!"