Fresh out of high school, Allen Community College was the only school that offered me enough financial aid to attend. When higher education seemed out of reach, Allen handed me a ladder. I won’t forget that. The last two years I’ve spent at Allen have been some of the greatest of my life. I’ve grown so much and learned a lot about myself. While this semester’s abrupt transition left something to be desired, I’ll carry what I learned in Iola with me everywhere.
Allen gave me the confidence to pursue the things I want. After high school, I knew where I wanted to be, but I had no idea how to get there. The possibility of pursuing my goals and failing was so petrifying, I almost didn’t try. But with the constructive criticism and positive feedback I got from my teachers and mentors at Allen, I grew more sure of myself. I got out of my comfort zone and stuck my foot in every door I could. So when it came time to think about transferring, I decided to apply to my dream school.
Typically when I’m asked what I want to do after college, I stick with a safe answer, like, “Maybe law school.” But as I was working on my college transfer essays, I was an open book. I wrote things I’ve never told anyone. I revealed that I write stand-up comedy in my free time. That I walk around with my headphones in, listening to slam poetry. I told them that while I am considering pursuing law, I’d also really love to be a screenwriter for a TV show. What did I have to lose? With a 9% acceptance rate, I thought I didn’t stand a chance, so I wrote what I wanted to say, rather than what I thought the school wanted to hear.
Turns out I was wrong about my odds. This fall I’ll attend Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, one of the top-ranked schools in the nation. The university offered me a full-ride scholarship. I’m in a Facebook group of over 200 students who are also transferring to Northwestern, and of those who have posted introductions, I’m the only one coming from a community college. There’s something to be said for transparency.
It wasn’t easy, but it’s true what they say: hard work really does pay off. Many students get to Allen and complain there is no room for growth. They couldn’t be more wrong. Everywhere I turned, I saw a new opportunity. Internships, group bike rides, community clean-ups, PTK conferences. I got the full college experience. It’s easy to spot opportunities if you’re always looking. But if you’re expecting the perfect one to fall into your lap without doing the work…good luck.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that my time at Allen ended in a global pandemic. The shutdown in April hit my family hard. I went from a packed schedule of school, work, and extracurriculars to 50-hour weeks at Walmart. Working so much on top of a full online course load was nearly impossible. I was falling behind, and I considered dropping my classes to salvage my GPA.
But Allen has what other colleges don’t — a true sense of community. Everybody was rooting for my success. While my friends at other schools were receiving failing grades, I was receiving phone calls from professors asking what they could do to help me successfully finish my classes. I’m not exaggerating when I say this seemingly small action changed the course of my life.
Shortly after the semester ended, I learned I had been conditionally admitted to Northwestern, provided there were no significant changes in my semester grades. If I failed a class, my acceptance would have been revoked. I am so blessed to have been met with patience and understanding, rather than strict and unwavering deadlines. I could not have gotten into Northwestern without Allen’s incredible faculty and staff. I’m very grateful to the college, and the Iola community, for making me feel at home these past two years.
In lieu of the weepy farewell I would have included in my graduation speech, I’d like to sincerely thank Travis Robb, Erik Griffith, John Masterson, Dr. Susie McKinnis, Dr. Jon Wells, Ryan Bilderback, Nikki Peters, Judge Daniel Creitz, Tim Stauffer and Tera Schultz. Together, you gave me the skills and opportunities I needed to get where I’m going.
And when I finally meet the other Northwestern transfer students, students whose first chapters of their college career were written at universities like Columbia, Carnegie Mellon, UCLA, and Brown, I’ll let them know that I, too, am transferring from one of the best schools in the country.