CCE4Me Stories

Stories allow us to see ourselves in each other, they teach, persuade, build empathy and shared relevance. Our personal stories about what college has meant, or means to us, can make a difference for others! The more diverse stories we share, the more people will find a message that resonates for them.

Tell us your story—about how college changed, is changing or will change everything for you!

Read more #CCE4me stories on Facebook

Belda Kousonsanong-Goble

Elgin Community College has done so much for me in so many ways. The people I met, my mentors, my family, my friends. I never received this support anywhere else. My ideal dream would be to work at ECC. I have so much to give back to the school that made me who I am today. Everything does happen for a reason. ECC was, ECC is and ECC will always be my reason, my choice!

Molly Schoenherr

I countlessly heard the statement, "You're going to miss out on the real college experience." At first, this statement intimidated me. Now, when graduation is a month away, I look back at this naive statement and realize the myth that it is. If I could give any advice to incoming students at Elgin Community College, I would tell them to take advantage of these opportunities. These projects, events and organizations have been my "real college experience."

Armando Martinez

If it was not for Elgin Community College, I would not be where I am now. The support you receive here is amazing. I'm glad I decided to attend ECC, and it is a bittersweet feeling that I'll be leaving, but because of ECC I am ready to face the challenges. I feel confident in myself that I can do anything and that's all possible because I chose the bright choice.

Joshua Dyer - ISACorps

My college experience served to reshape, redefine, and ultimately bolster my sense of self—both intellectually and functionally. While earning a degree in English and Rhetoric at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I found myself exploring and actively seeking out new and often disparate ideas. The scope and breadth of my studies afforded me an opportunity to pinpoint many innate interests that would’ve otherwise gone unrealized. My ability to consider and adapt to the world around me blossomed in a very real and practicable way. College does change everything: beyond gleaning innovative and useful knowledge, beyond constructing new and lasting relationships, beyond even fashioning a framework with which to view an intimidating adult world, college is a place for uninhibited growth and development. It should be cherished as such. #CCE4me

Emily Phipps - ISACorps

#CCE4me College really opened my eyes to all of the job opportunities that are available to me. I had no idea how many types of jobs were out there. I feel like I can accomplish anything I want to because I have such a strong foundation of knowledge and support to fall back on. Now that I have experienced college I can't wait to get to help others find and meet their full potential like I did!

Ashwin Karingada, M.Ed.

#CCE4me College made me the successful person I am today. I was the first in my family to graduate from a four-year university and complete my masters degree. My experiences taught me the importance of giving back to my community and promoting educational integrity. My education gives me the opportunity to work as a College Counselor and prepare students from under-represented backgrounds to both matriculate into and graduate from top-tier colleges and universities.

Nadia J. Flores

My college degrees were not only for my self-purpose. They were for my parents, husband, children, and especially my community. College changed everything because I am one more resource, asset, key person to uplift so many of my students. As a director that manages counselors who will display my mission on to the students they serve, my legacy ofgraduating future generations from college has been met.

Sarah Labadie

Both my parents went to college right after high school, but neither made it more than a year. Ten years later, my mom realized she was limited without a degree and returned to college. She worked and cared for three kids while going to school, and ultimately graduated in six years. Because of her, I don't remember ever thinking I wasn't going to college. Even though it was always expected, I know that without college, I wouldn't have met people from different countries and cultures and wouldn't be working in a job I love where I help others access and complete college. My mom knew, and so did we, that college changes everything!

Abel Montoya

#CCE4me Although my parents only were only able to obtain an elementary school education, they encouraged and pushed me to excel in school since a young age. As a result of a very generous scholarship, I completed my undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Illinois at Urbana, where I also discovered my passion for helping others. Now, I help students and families with their college goals as part of my work responsibilities, although it's not really work if you truly enjoy it! College definitely changed everything for the best for me.

Samantha Hedges

#CCE4me Aside from one aunt, I was the first in my family to receive a bachelors degree, I was the first to study abroad, and the first to receive a masters. Both of my sisters attended a 4-year college - one has graduated and one will graduate this December - and both studied abroad. I am proud of myself and my sisters for changing the education trajectory of our family and striving to be globally-minded citizens. Higher education allowed me the opportunity to meet new people from new places and gave me invaluable opportunities to explore new cultures and have new experiences. The exposure to others-not-like-me led to my desire to make this world a better place for ALL kids because the environment you are born into should not dictate your life opportunities.

Brittney Hughes - ISACorps

College exposed me to different social, economical, and most importantly educational aspects of life that I probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to experience had I not gone to college. I am forever grateful for the many experiences and lifelong relationships I've gained while attending college. #CCE4me

Jalaine Hart - ISACorps

#CCE4me I watched my single mother struggle all my life raising me on a minimum wage salary and always just barely getting by. I wanted to pave a path for myself and those after me so that not only education, but also employment success was and is possible. I always knew I wanted to help people and after going through school and the experiences that come with that I realized the career path that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Being that neither of my parents nor my grandparents went to college, a diploma with my name on it is wonderful bar to set for this road that I am paving. I definitely feel more confident about my life.

Isaac Lozano - ISACorps

#CCE4me Even though my parents didn't go to college, they did everything within their power to ensure that my brother and I did. Prior to attending Indiana University- Bloomington, all I had every known was the inner-city and it's specific level of expectations (academic, professional, and personal). Learning to meet what was expected of me at a world-renowned university was life-changing and fundamental to my long-term success.

Andrea Gonzalez - ISACorps

#CCE4me College has overall exposed me to new ideologies and perspectives that have allowed me to morph my own opinion and discover not only what my interests are, but also who I am. It also expanded my social and academic network that has opened the door to career possibilities where I gained an in-depth understanding of a real life career and how I can thrive within that culture.

As a first-generation graduate within my family and as an undocumented individual, it has set down a path for my future family generations to go far and beyond my accomplishments. Graduating college has tremendously instilled confidence within me through fellowships, internships, and volunteer opportunities. Furthermore, it has encouraged me to become involved in my community to assist any student or parent alike in the college going process.

Garrick Montesinos - ISACorps

#CCE4me I didn't know what college I was going to, but I knew that I was definitely going to college. I was raised by a single mother who worked in a minimum wage job. My mom worked hard to provide shelter and food for my siblings and I, she always wanted better for us, to make sure that we would be able to have a position in an office that was not physically demanding. I along with my twin were the first to go to college and dealt with experiences that were new to us like being away from home for the first time. Through my time at UofI I became more involved with the retention of student in higher education as well as with college access for students. It isn't what I started out thinking I would do, but I am glad in the direction in which my life has gone. It is my goal to help others achieve the same kind of opportunities I had in going to college and to be able to experience that same kind of positive impact it had in my life.


College really opened my eyes to all of the job opportunities that are available to me. I had no idea how many types of jobs were out there. I feel like I can accomplish anything I want to because I have such a strong foundation of knowledge and support to fall back on. Now that I have experienced college I can't wait to get to help others find and meet their full potential like I did!

Stephanie Bernoteit

#CCE4me College opened all kinds of doors to opportunity for me - to think more deeply about teaching, learning, and education policy; meet faculty and other educators who supported my development and exemplified true professionalism; explore my passion for the arts; and make lifelong friends who continue to be both a joy and inspiration. I have benefited intellectually, professionally, and in so many other ways from my experiences at Northwest Missouri State University, Drake University, and Illinois State University.

Samuel T. Nelson

#CCE4me I grew up on a farm in western Illinois near a small town (high school graduating class under 100) where agriculture was king. Growing up on the family farm was terrific, but I didn’t see myself staying there. While my parents didn’t go to college, fortunately one of my older sisters did. Through visiting her at both a small college and a large university, I was able to figure out which type of school might be the best fit for me – the smaller one. My college experience opened my eyes and my mind to a much bigger world than I had known, and provided me opportunities to explore courses and activities my high school couldn’t. One of the best things my college offered was an internship opportunity that helped me refocus my career plans while still in college, rather than waiting until I landed my first job and figured out it wasn’t the best fit. When I look back on my undergraduate years, I see how well they helped lay a foundation for me professionally, as well as when I went back to get my master’s degree. College Changed Everything for me, and continues to Change Everything every day for me.

James Yost

I have several cousins who are older than me, therefore, I always thought about after school I will probably have to attend some form of higher education institution. That being said, it was the last thing I wanted to do out of high school, but my parents encouraged me to do something with my life, so I attended College of Lake County; it was the best choice I had made up that point in my life. From there, I got into an honors society, got scholarships, experience, and explored many different subjects. I transferred to St. Ambrose University where I double majored in the subjects I loved learning about most: Psychology and Sociology. My dream has always been to help people, and now I am living that dream because I got an education. Thank you to everyone who helped me along the way, thank you teachers, staff, parents, friends, and anyone else who helped me pave this road to success. You changed my life.

Christina Warden

I was the first in my family to go to college and unlike many stories you hear, my family was not supportive. In fact, my parents were very angry when I applied to college. They wanted me to find a factory job like theirs, even though they both hated their jobs and could barely make ends meet on the low wages those jobs paid. College opened up a whole new world that I couldn't have imagined in my working class neighborhood. While I'm proud of the community that I came from, I am also proud and grateful that college gave me the opportunity to do meaningful work and help others chart unfamiliar territory by going to college.

Joe Bright

Coming from a small town in Northern Illinois I was not exposed to many things outside of that community while growing up. Going to Augustana opened me up to new experiences and gave me the opportunity to interact with people from other communities across the country and even from around the world. My experiences there helped lead me to my belief that I am not just a citizen of the state of Illinois or of the United States, but of the entire world.

Maria Chavez

I'm not from Illinois but went to community college and it has drastically (in my eyes) changed my life. I went from doing general labor of unloading trucks at a warehouse to working in the financial industry; something I never thought would happen. Basically college is the best thing in my little career that has happened to me.

Eddie Brambila

#CCE4me In high school, I used to think that going to college would be the only way to get a good job that would help me make enough money to buy all of the nice things we couldn't afford growing up. My parent's were both very young immigrants when they came to the US and only had an elementary school education so saving for college or even convesations about going to college were never had in my household. Now that I have my own children, they know that their educational path does not even take a break until they graduate from college. We take our children to college campuses when we are on vacation. They have a college pin collection from the college campuses I've been to in my business travels. My daughter (9) plans to go to Georgetown University and figure out how to systematically help wipe away the homelessness that she sees. My son (5) wants to go to Notre Dame. I'm sure that will change with time. Going to co llege has helped me see that it wasn't just me I was going for. Goint to college changed the trajectory of my family for future generations. Those generations have to thank my mother for her unconditional support even if that was just to remind me that I could do it while many others were saying I should be working and making more money than my job and GI Bill were giving me. Now, most of them have changed their views on college and my younger cousins are in line to go to school!!!

Jacqueline Moreno

I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school, the first person to go to college, and the first woman in the entire family to be truly self-sufficient and independent. Twenty five years ago there were plenty of people in my family who made a very good living without a college degree – and they were all men. What I learned in college, and the career my education has allowed me to have, is extremely valuable. But the freedom that I gained by being the first woman with real options and financial security - is priceless.

Arianna Lawson

College changed everything for me because I was first to graduate from high school, and the first to go to and through college. Those two things alone in general were such a big leap and scary for me. I was able to open up and meet some amazing people as well as join leadership organizations (serving on an executive board), and so much more. I was also able to travel different states, vacation, and study abroad (something that I never thought was possible). I believe the biggest impact that college had on me was to show me that anything is possible. #CCE4me

Marbella Moreno

My dad had to drop out of college to move to the USA. He wanted to become a teacher but was unable to finish his education. He always regretted not being able to complete his degree but never his decision to give us a future. College changed everything for my family. I become the first one in my family to graduate and was able to complete my dad's life goal to finally seeing his name on a diploma.

Suzana Estrada

#CCE4me Unlike many people who know their plan from a very young age, I didn’t always know that I was going to college, or better yet even understand what that meant. Nonetheless I was lucky enough to fall into a journey that got me to college and now to be an advocate for higher education. My trajectory through education happened in a series of steps which took place at very particular moments in my life. These steps involved educators who “put a bug in my ear” or “planted the seed” to get me thinking about what I should do next in my life. Considering these pivotal moments, including all of those whom I’ve met and have influenced my life in some sort of way, I have been very inspired to want to work with students especially the kids that are a little lost like I was through high school.

Ciera Landolt

#CCE4me My parents only completed their high school education but always pushed me to have a better life then they had for themselves. Getting my college degree was my chance to provide a better life for my children then my parents did for myself. I completed my undergraduate degree at McKendree University and while doing so it opened my eyes to helping people and the value of a higher education. I now plan on getting my masters in College Student Personnel Administration at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. There I will continue to be able to make an impact on students lives with higher education.

Celeste Reed

#CCE4me College Changed Everything for me. I was able to continue my legacy of a long line of educated black women in my family. I was able to find out what exactly I wanted to do with my life. I was able to meet lots of great people and have great experiences. I learned a lot and gain valuable knowledge for the real world and my career.

Sarah Miranti

College changed everything for me. I was working in customer service before college and volunteering in social services because I wanted to impact the world in which I lived. When I started college, I learned that I could make a living by doing service for others. College changed everything for me because now I can help others change their worlds.

Richard Payton

I discovered my professional passion for education through a handful of college courses at the University of Missouri. That experience opened my eyes to the value of education for individuals and entire communities, but also the unfortunate inequities that exist within our country when it comes to education. I am so grateful to have had that experience at a point in my life where I was deciding which career path to pursue. I can't imagine working in any other field and I truly have my college experience to thank.

Jim Applegate

I was raised in a small town where neither of my parents nor most of the town went to college. Nevertheless I never remember a time when my brother and I were allowed to think we weren't going to college. He became a physician and I earned my PhD. Sadly I never asked my parents (my father died when I was 16) where this commitment for their children came from. I wish I had since building family commitment for young people from families like mine is a big part of the work we need to do. #CCE4me

Karen Hunter Anderson

One of the most rewarding aspects of my career in education has been working with Illinois Community Colleges because community colleges change lives! We give second chances to students who never thought they were "college material" -- whether it's the single mother who earns a degree or certificate and finally gets a job that includes benefits or the dislocated worker who is facing the unemployment line. We provide second chances to successful people who need a career change or who need to update their skills. For the almost 1 million students we serve every year, COLLEGE CHANGES EVERYTHING! #CCE4me

Eric Zarnikow—ISAC

While both of my parents graduated from college, they were the first in their families to graduate from, let alone go to college.  In fact, they were probably the first in their families to graduate from high school.

Even though my four sisters and I were not pressured to go to college, it was expected that we would go.  But, even with two parents that had graduated from college, only one of my siblings and I graduated from college; two other siblings went but didn't graduate, and the other chose not to attend at all.  The path is not easy.

I had to pay for my own college, so I had several jobs in high school and while I was in college to help pay for the cost. I worked several years as a roofer, and I think roofing has to be in the top 10 difficult jobs.  I actually got some of my most important life experiences from roofing. I learned how to get along with people from all walks of life. I learned how to earn the respect of my co-workers--by showing up on time, not complaining about doing the worst parts of the job, and volunteering to stay late to get things done. I also learned that I didn't want to be a roofer! There are people that love it and who are great at it, but I knew it was not for me—in part because I hated the heat. By the end of each summer, I was very motivated to go back and finish school because I knew I was much better suited for an office position—preferably in a building with air conditioning!

Although finishing college and later getting my MBA at night school while working full time was not easy, there is no doubt that it was worth it for me.  I have loved my career and the great opportunities I have had as a result of my education. The smell of hot roofing asphalt on a summer day reminds me that every life experience has had value for me—I’m grateful that college allowed me to take those life experiences and put them to use in a career I love.

Susan Drone

I attended SIU Carbondale. The Journalism and Speech Communication departments were both nationally ranked so I could obtain a great education close to home and proudly be a 3rd generation Saluki. Participation in student government and student orientation allowed me to develop leadership skills while serving my university, and fellow classmates and future Saluki students. The opportunity to work on campus helped me to pay for part of my college education. These experiences and my academic coursework truly prepared me to confidently enter the workforce. Within a few weeks of moving to Chicago I obtained a great position with an amazing international advertising agency. It was thrilling to see my dream of working in that field come true. Now I’m working on my second career dream, in higher education, because I want to help as many students as possible to learn that COLLEGE CHANGES EVERYTHING! #CCE4me


As a first generation college graduate, I discovered early that college has given me the power of knowledge, critical mindedness and most importantly the unending desire to acquire more knowledge. For every step of my college experience up to a PhD level, there was a burning desire to learn more and I could literally connect with the transformation taking place "inside". I can confidently say that College is a “confidence booster” and I would not trade that opportunity to attend for anything else!


My mom went to school and finished her bachelors degree while I was in college. We even took some classes together. Watching her determination and drive changed the way that I thought about my own education. It also showed me that the really smart people are the ones who know that there is always more to learn. #CCE4me

Candace Mueller

My mom and dad did not go to college. My aunt was a social worker. When I met with my advisor at the UIUC campus to plan my freshman schedule, I told her I wanted to be a social worker too! Four years later I had an MSW, and was a lobbyist for children's issues in Washington, DC. College Changes Everything definitely applied to me! #CCE4me

Lynne Baker - ISAC

#CCE4me The greatest thing academically was being able to take the courses I wanted to take--the stuff that really excited me--and not having to take the stuff I hated (like algebra and trig!). There were so many things to get involved in on an extracurricular basis. I didn't end up majoring in theater, but I did improv comedy all through college, and it was one of the best experiences of my life, and prepared me with skills I've used in various aspects of my work since then. Then there was the tremendous feeling of being independent--not just being able to come and go as I pleased, but also having to take care of myself--juggle school, a part-time job, a budget, an apartment, relationships with roommates. Invaluable life experience and preparation for the rest of "life." Only wish I could go back and do it again. And again :)

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