I would like to share a story with you about a young man from a low-income, single-parent home; a young man who was the first person in his family to graduate college; a young man who worked 30-50 hours a week in addition to being a full-time student. This extraordinary young man also came to college with a secret. A secret few students or teachers at Ozarks Technical Community College knew. He had a reading comprehension disability. Although he used an Individualized Education Program in high school, his goal was to get his associate degree without the additional help. He knew his reading disability would not allow him to complete a four-year college degree, however, he knew learning a trade at OTC would be his greatest chance at a better life.
I can honestly tell you that his graduation from OTC was one of the most prideful days of my life. I knew a diploma would make the difference between his surviving and excelling in life. Two years later, at my own graduation from the same community college, I shared with him that it was his courage and his determination to reach his dream that gave me the strength to reach for my own.
I am the single mom who worked two jobs most of my life to provide for that young man and his siblings. I am the single mom who cried when I realized he was using duct tape to keep his football cleats together. I am that single mother who went to bed hungry many times because I chose to make sure my children had plenty to eat instead of myself. And, although I had long-term job experiences, I also experienced layoffs and unsatisfactory employment situations. We were not poor because of a lack of hard work or effort. We were poor because I lacked the skills and education needed to get a better-paying job.
After watching my son earn his college degree, I decided it was finally time to live my own dream and earn a college degree myself. At the age of 46, I enrolled at OTC. It wasn’t easy. I managed my family and a job while keeping my grade point average extremely high. I always knew I was smart enough to go to college, I just did not know how I would ever afford college and still provide for my family. That is the beauty of community college. It is affordable enough that I was able to go to school without losing my home and everything else I had worked to earn.
After graduating from OTC, I enrolled at Drury University where I have received several scholarships and should graduate with a double-major in marketing and business administration in May 2018. My life is completely different from when I started this journey three years ago.
The truth is I would have never started at a four-year college. Like most first-generation college students, I lacked the confidence to know that I would be successful. I also had no emotional support or guidance from others. What frightened me most was the financial burden. We were barely surviving already, and I did not want to risk making things even harder. However, OTC was affordable enough that I decided to take the risk. It was the best decision of my life!
Last year, while I was the OTC First Generation Scholarship Representative, I learned that OTC had more than 14,000 students enrolled at the time. And more than 9,400 of those students were first-generation college students.
OTC is a haven for these students trying to find the balance between family, work and school, in order to give their families something more. Inside the halls of community colleges like OTC, people find hope and a belief that anything is possible. Community colleges give us the opportunity to prove to ourselves, and the world, that we deserve the same things in life that others have, all we need is an opportunity.
My dream is use my degree to help other first-generation students and single mothers improve their lives though education and provide better lives for their own families. Just as I watched my son have success, there are others who watched me.
My son is now in his third year as a successful industrial mechanic. He owns his own home, and has hopes for a marriage and children in the future. It is nice to know that because of his education from OTC his children will never have to duct tape their shoes.
I’m sharing my family’s story with the hope that you will understand the impact that community colleges have on us and thousands of other people just like us.
We need the small classrooms and the one-on-one interaction that encourages us to stick to our goals and keep moving forward. We need the affordable choice that only a community college can offer. Without our community colleges there is no escaping poverty. It is clear that education is a gateway out of poverty, and community colleges like OTC are the only gateway for many.
— Tranna Shaughnessy