Sarah Simmons is not unlike other students at the Community College of Aurora: she never saw college in her future while growing up. “I didn’t do too well in high school, so I didn’t think I should go college,” she says. Yet with her positive experience at CCA, and with more than a little determination, Simmons soon will move to Illinois to attend Columbia College Chicago, the nation’s largest and most diverse private arts and media college, to which she has been accepted. Once there, Simmons will pursue a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
Simmons’ high school years were defined by frequent moves and upheaval. “I worked a lot, partied a lot, and didn’t see the importance of school – why go, if I’m working and making money?” she says. But in her senior year, she got pregnant. Child of a single mother herself, Simmons wanted her child to be raised differently from how she and her brother were brought up. With her daughter, Aliyah Lana, for inspiration, Simmons’ schoolwork began to improve. “I knew her father wasn’t going to be there for her, so I had to really start thinking about our future,” she says. With the support of professionals at her high school, Simmons finally started thinking about college.
During this time, Simmons saw how she didn’t want to spend her life. “When I turned 18, me and my daughter were living with my mom, and we spent a lot of time applying for welfare, standing in line for food stamps, applying for WIC,” she says. “We were just so broke all the time, and that was no way to live.”
So with high school diploma in hand, Simmons completed beauty school, earned a cosmetology degree, and worked at a few salons. And she concluded: is this all there is? Shortly after moving to the Aurora area, she considered CCA. “In spring 2009 I enrolled in two classes and loved it,” she reports. She took history and psychology, two fields of study she has always liked.
She embraced the opportunity, and Simmons now is a fixture at CCA. She is vice president of fund raising for the college’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter; treasurer of the Student Government Association; and president of the college’s new journalism club and editor of its publication, CCA Chronicle.
With spring graduation from CCA around the corner, Simmons is looking ahead and is eager to take advantage of the journalism internships offered through Columbia. She may also study marketing to build on her early experience in the cosmetology business, and admits she’s pretty good at promotion and publicity “because it was an essay on marketing I wrote at CCA that got me into Columbia.”
In the meantime, Simmons is taking advantage of every moment at CCA as she plans her move to Chicago. She needs to find an apartment and secure daycare for her daughter, who turns three in May. She then will enroll part time at Columbia in the summer, and jump into school full time come fall.