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Carmi Native Claims 2020 Paul Simon Essay Contest Award

A student essay reflecting on how unexpected changes in life can lead you to a community college to pursue your dreams has earned Mattie Dennis the 2020 Paul Simon Essay award at Southeastern Illinois College.

“Winning this award makes me very proud,” said Dennis. “I was never one who won much of anything growing up but through hard work, and a lot of writing, I have seen how I can make something of myself through scholarship opportunities and top-quality education.”

Dennis will finish her Associate Degree in Nursing this spring, then plans to work full time and further her education by pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing.

Dr. Karen Weiss, SIC vice president of academic affairs, congratulates Dennis on her award and will present her with a $50 check.  Dennis’s essay will be entered into the Illinois Community College Trustees Association’s Paul Simon Student Essay Contest at the state level.  The winner of that contest will receive a $500 scholarship during an annual awards luncheon this summer in Normal.

“I find it amazing that life brought me to this region where I could fulfill my nursing dream at the best nursing school in the state of Illinois,” said Dennis.  “SIC has made a lot of things possible for me that I never would have thought possible and for that, I am extremely grateful.”


Dennis’s essay by permission:

How My Community College Has Changed My Life

            I had always said that I wanted to be a nurse, but my life had played in such a way where that seemed more of a dream than reality. I was an eighteen-year-old girl when I first went to college, who then dropped out a semester later. Fast forward a couple of years. I was a married, twenty-three-year-old, brand-new mother, with a newborn baby on my chest when I had overwhelming thoughts swarm through my head to become a nurse now. The next day I heard a radio commercial that my local community college’s nursing program was rated number 1 in the state of Illinois. I concluded this had to be God directing my path to become a nurse. Fast forward even further. I am now twenty-five years old and will be completed with my associate’s degree in nursing in May 2020. I never thought I would be where I am now, and I know I could not have done this without my community college.

            As I look back at my life I see that everything had happened for a reason. Straight after high school I went to a private Christian college, but I dropped out only after a semester when I met my husband through a mutual friend. We married, and I moved to Southern Illinois where he is from, and two years later we had our beautiful baby girl. My life was full, but I had always felt disappointed in myself for dropping out of school. Little did I know back then that my life was leading me to the place destined for me. It brought me to a region where I could fulfill my dream of becoming a nurse. It brought me to my small college on a hill.

            My community college made so many things possible for me. Things I wanted and things I didn’t even know I wanted were given to me through my community college. My community college has made it possible for me to be a wife, mother, and follow my dream of becoming a nurse. It allowed me to make connections with people in my new community and brought me friendships which will be lifelong. My community college, which staffs the highest quality team, has shown me love when I felt like quitting. They give me encouragement and wisdom that I can be all I want to be. I have found new parts of me because of my community college, such as that I am strong enough to do whatever I put my mind to. I am the strong person and nurse I am today because of my community college. I know that if I didn’t have my community college, I would still be at home with that baby on my chest dreaming of what my life might look like if I hadn’t dropped out. Thankfully I don’t have to wonder, because my community college has changed my life.

For more information on the contest, call 217-528-2858, ext. 1.

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