"The College of Last Chances"

Kara Barbieri, College of Lake County
2016 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest Winner

Two years ago, I was battling tears when I showed my English teacher my ACT scores. "Of course they're lower than average," he said. "Look at yourself."

I whispered, "But I want to work in public health."

He only shrugged. "We all want things we can't have. You're in line to be a fry cook or a Walmart greeter."

College of Lake County student Kara Barbieri accepts her $500 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest scholarshipfrom ICCTA vice president Linda Liddell.

College of Lake County student Kara Barbieri accepts her $500 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest scholarship from ICCTA vice president Linda Liddell.

Two years ago, I'd been bounced from school to school in the alternative education system. Since eighth grade, I'd heard college just wasn't an option.

The private alternative schools had low education standards, and if I followed the track they'd set for me, I was getting trained to enter the workforce the day they kicked me out with my high-school-equivalent diploma.

That was before I found out about the College of Lake County. When I first stepped into CLC's registrar office to sign up for classes, I had no clue what to expect. Would the professors accommodate my special needs? Would I be smart enough to follow along? Would I be discriminated against because of my alternative education past? Would they tell me to stop dreaming and realize my life was a dead end?

In the halls of the campus I found the answers. For the first time since eighth grade, I was surrounded by staff and professors who cared about my success. For the first time in five years, I made friends with people who didn't care that I was autistic and had a personality disorder, and when I struggled with my health (both mentally and physically) the professors helped me regain my footing instead of letting me slip into a dark academic hold.

For me, CLC was the first educational system that told me I could work in the difficult field I wanted to pursue. Here I was allowed an education as much as any other student. For the first time, anything was possible as long as I focused.

After years of being told to expect to live on money made from flipping burgers and SSI, I found CLC like taking a drink of cool water in a blazing desert. CLC gave me hope that I could - and would - succeed.

For me, CLC is my open door to a career in the health fields, rather than 20 years saying "Welcome to Walmart." I've heard CLC mocked as the "College of Last Chances," but they believed in me when no one else did. For me, I will always be grateful that CLC has been the college of myfirstchance. And that one chance is everything I need