Community college second chances | Opinion

I am a college graduate, an All-PA Academic team member, a New Century Scholar, a recipient of the Trustee Leadership Award, and a recipient of the Liberal Arts award. But first and foremost, I am a proud alumnus of Northampton Community College (NCC).

Now, I wasn’t always the person I am today. All of us are different from who we were in the past. Nine years ago, I was heartless, lost, and addicted to drugs. I had no thought of a future beyond the next high.

After hitting rock bottom, more than once, I was fortunate to have a moment of clarity, as well as the resources to treat my disease. However, after completing treatment, I had no idea who I was sober, where I would go, or what I would do. All I knew was that there was a truly good woman inside of me, and that I would fight every demon with everything I had to give her a chance to thrive. It’s strange, but there’s an insane level of drive and ambition that comes from spending year after year as someone you were ashamed to be. So I swore to myself I would become a good person, to do the right thing at every opportunity. I worked hard to do my best at everything I pursued, no matter how small or insignificant.

Countless times I have faced difficult situations, but my faith in myself never faltered. Five years later, I felt like I could still do better. I found myself walking into Northampton Community College. Completely unaware of the person I was about to become, I sat in my first college class, English I, pride beaming out of every fiber of my being. I was going to create my future, despite my past.

Now, there is some level of stigma surrounding community colleges. When I started here, I believed that stigma. Don’t get me wrong, I was extremely proud to be taking this step in my life. But when students from 4-year universities asked me where I studied, I’d say “Oh, just community college.” That response didn’t last long. As I took more and more classes, I found myself learning a lot. I could hold intelligent discussions with those 4-year, private university students, and speak on academic subjects at the same level based on information I learned here. My classes weren’t easy, and they weren’t superficial. My professors were extremely thorough and fair, and used effective teaching methods to ensure their student’s success. If I had a hard time with a subject, I had an abundance of help available to me, and believe me, I used it. I spent my entire summer in the Science Resource Center, where tutors sat down with me and took the time to make sure I was learning and studying effectively.

During my time at NCC, the Student Life department hosted countless leadership development seminars and events. I was able to take professional development courses and was given so many opportunities to give back to my college and my community through fulfilling leadership roles in student organizations. As the vice president of the Psychology Club and President of NCC’s Tau Gamma chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, I organized fundraisers for causes such as suicide prevention and Autism Speaks — an autism research and advocacy organization — and I organized team-building activities and educational outings . I served as the chair of an international award-winning research-based service project, through which we hosted a veteran mental health conference.

There are so many other students like me. People, of all ages and races and backgrounds, creating a better future for themselves. Creating a better future for their families, their communities, and their country. These are mothers and fathers who are willing to work hard to provide their children with the life and role models they deserve. These are kids fresh out of high school with no idea what the future holds for them. These are international students who are fighting for their chance at the American dream. Each and every one of us has so much talent, so much potential, we just need a chance to grow and to thrive.

Community college gave us that chance.

I’m an addict who has seen some dark days and some even darker sides of myself. I’m also a college graduate, a capable professional, a first-time homeowner, and a compassionate human. I am all of these things, because my local community college gave me a chance at success. A chance at becoming who I am today.

Michelle Tatosian was awarded the New Century Pathways Scholar, the highest student achievement earned by a Community College graduate. She was a featured speaker at the Susquehanna Valley Community College Summit in 2020.

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