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2012 June 11 - 12:00 am

STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: 2012 Essay Contest Winner:

Community colleges, at their essence, are all about possibilities.

Students who otherwise would have no access to higher education can find an open door and a path to success at the country’s two-year colleges. Guiding students along that pathway are the instructors and professors who through commitment and excellence can show students the way.

Each year, during its student essay contest, the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) and Community College Week strive to identify and honor those instructors. The contest is held in honor of Scott Wright, a past CCWeek editor, who through his work, brought national attention to developmental education and the mission community colleges fulfill in providing an accessible education.

But the contest really honors community colleges, students and instructors who make community colleges what they are. Here is this year’s winner:

The Gift
By Denise Tompkins,
St. Philip’s College, San Antonio, Texas


On first impression, his presence was ominous. I precariously walked into the room guarded by this tall gentleman wearing glasses, with iron gray hair, his wool sweater enlivened by a bow tie. As I hesitantly made eye contact, his steel gray eyes smiled as he welcomed us into his room... a room facing east, full of goodness with the morning sun streaming in and a window cracked just enough to ensure a whiff of brisk January breeze, a scent full of hope and new promise. After providing us with a stern guide of do’s and don’ts on that first day, he rose with conviction from his chair, his gaunt frame towering over us, and said....“It’s the struggle that makes you triumphant.” He told us all he was our coach and would be training us to become champions.

My philosophy professor told us about the forest and compared it to morality. He declared we would begin with the trees and go from limb to limb, examining moral judgments and principals and compare it to current events. He brought up topics guaranteed to make for heated discussions, but did so in a manner that never was judgmental. Like a gardener tending his saplings, he patiently guided us through a maze of ideas relating to conscious decisions. Dr. Travis spoke of the importance of education, stating that with knowledge we could dispel ignorance. He instilled a sense of duty to others that before his class, I never had. “Tune in to the things around you...bring out your antennas.” Like Aristotle, the message he taught, the true road to happiness was through learning, something you are never too old to do.

The semester progressed rapidly. Dr. Travis paved a way for me to look at things in a new light. Before where I was angry, I became more attuned to the questions behind the afflictions. My prior outlook was replaced with thoughts of compassion.

Like the glow of sunlight filtering through the room, Dr. Travis’ words made their way to my consciousness.

All too soon, the season had ended. Dr. Travis always said he would give us a “regalo”....a gift. And that he did...the gift of enlightenment.

On our final day, Dr. Travis, eyes brimming with pride, told us that he was happy to have instructed such champions.... “Go out into the World and do something good.” He concluded his goodbye with “namaste.”...meaning, “I recognize the divine in you.”

Sometimes I see Dr. Travis when walking to my new classes. He is in his sun-filled room teaching new students to become better human beings. I smile and think of the imprint he left. It is here with me always, the acknowledgement that I have something, I am something.

My name is Denise Tompkins. I am 52 years young. I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing so that I can make the world a better place. And most of all, I am a champion.

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