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Jean Johnson Wins Success Skills Scholarship

Jean M. Johnson, of Freeport, has won the Highland Community College Fall 2007 Success Skills Scholarship for her essay entry, “How I Define Success.” Johnson received a certificate for a free credit hour of tuition at Highland.

Johnson, a graduate of Freeport High School, is married and the mother of four. She plans to work toward a degree in social science and human services. Her definition of success is “the ability to overcome personal adversity and obstacles to achieve one’s goals and desires.” She and her family have faced significant adversity yet have succeeded and continue to work toward goals. Having recently become visually impaired, Johnson believes that she should use her disability to help others and to motivate them to succeed. Johnson says, “I take advantage of every opportunity to help me succeed.” At HCC, she uses services provided by Dawn Zuelke, Highland’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator, and she is a member of Project Succeed.

Johnson currently debates in the Lincoln Parliamentary League with Highland’s Forensics Team and is a writer for the Chronicle. During the Fall 2007 semester, she contributed two front-page articles as well as a three-part series entitled “Bridging the Gap,” which focused on the similar concerns of traditional and nontraditional students.

Johnson’s essay on success has also been entered in the Houghton Mifflin Student Success Skills scholarship competition. Each year, the publisher of the Becoming a Master Student text awards three $1,000 scholarships to winners in the United States and Canada. All students in fall semester HCC College Success Skills classes were eligible to enter.

Following is Johnson's winning essay:

How I Define Success
By Jean Johnson, HCC student

The ability to overcome personal adversity and obstacles to achieve one’s goals and desires is how I define success. In a perfect world, there would be no need for success because everyone would have all needs and desires met. We do not, however, live in such a world. In order to achieve success in our lives, we must meet all challenges, trials, and roadblocks that try to hinder us in attaining our goals.

When I was a young child, I never saw the importance of setting goals. I had parents who provided everything for me. One summer my family visited the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. I remember being fascinated by the blueprints and structure of the arch. It was then that I decided that I wanted to be an architect. I started to set short-term goals for myself, like learning what I could about architecture. I mapped out a plan showing myself how to meet my dream of being an architect and started to work towards it.

The following summer, when I was eleven, my life came crashing down around me. My best friend drowned, almost taking me to the watery grave with her. I faced survivor guilt as well as anger and frustration from being accused of foul play by members of the community. As a result, I lost all drive and ambition for my education and future. I developed behavioral problems and did whatever I could to disrupt not only my life, but the lives of those around me. As my teen years progressed, so did my aggressions and behavioral problems. I began getting into fights, both in and out of school, and getting into legal trouble. When I was nineteen, I was arrested on three counts each of assault and battery on a peace officer, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. This arrest occurred on the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death and was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. This incident made me sit back and evaluate myself. I did not like the path I saw myself traveling. It was then that I decided that I needed to find direction for my life.

I was nineteen and did not have a high school diploma. I had no marketable job skills and was on probation for eighteen months. I was lost and needed to be found. My probation officer convinced me to get my General Education Diploma and go to college. During my first semester of college, I was reunited with a long-time friend and we married eight weeks later. I left school to follow and support him when he enlisted in the military.

It is now almost twenty years later, and the journey has been very rough and difficult. My family and I have dealt with financial uncertainty as my husband’s job moved overseas and as we saw him deployed to Iraq for eighteen months. We have also watched my father lose his battle with cancer. Immediately following his death, I became very ill, coming within hours of death and losing eighty percent of my sight as a result.

We have also experienced happy times and have many things for which we are thankful. My husband and I have a good marriage and four beautiful, bright daughters with solid futures ahead of them. Our oldest daughter graduated from high school and received several awards in the process. My husband returned to school and graduated with a nursing degree. I have also made a complete recovery, except for sight, and returned to school so that I can one day re-enter the workforce. It is my desire to attain an education so that I can work in a job that will allow me to use my disability to help others.

The lives of my family have resembled an obstacle course, but we have overcome every challenge sent our way. My daughters are four well-adjusted, mature individuals that any mother would be proud to claim as her own. We have embraced each other as a family to overcome our personal battles and have a very strong sense of purpose. My family is a success by every definition of the word, including my own. We have overcome personal adversity and obstacles to achieve our goals and desires. We have chosen to rule the events of our lives instead of allowing them to rule us. How do I define success? The answer is simple: Look at my family; they embody it.

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Freeport, IL 61032-9341

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