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What's Your Story: Victoria College showed woman way to success

By BY TONI MAREK
May 27, 2013 at 12:27 a.m.

Toni Marek is a member of Victoria College's Zeta Gamma Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa.

The Victoria Advocate will be publishing student essays from the Victoria College "What's Your Story?" scholarship competition during the next few weeks. Students were asked to write an essay answering the question, "How has Victoria College changed your life?" Winners of the contest, who will receive a $1,000 scholarship funded by the Victoria College Foundation, will have their essays published last. We welcome letters and columns from all students.

Victoria College was not my first choice. In fact, it was not my second or third choice either. After being a stay-at-home mother for five years and upon my subsequent divorce, I quickly found that the economy had driven the workforce to such a place that I simply could not compete with just a high school diploma. I was forced to enter Victoria College, and I can say with absolute certainty that my life will be forever changed because of that decision.

As a student in high school, I felt ostracized from the student body. I was insecure about my ethnicity because I had suffered a great deal of bullying in my pre-teen years. I was also insecure about my intelligence level because my grades were usually just above passing in nearly every subject. I felt as if my future was bleak, and I had no control over my life.

My family didn't have the money to send me to college, and I wasn't smart, so it was naturally assumed that college would never be an option for me. I decided that the concept of "success" was only for people that were smart or rich, and I relegated myself to believing that my life would include getting a high school diploma and joining the Army.

In 1996, I barely graduated high school, and a few months later, I enlisted in the Army Reserves. I spent my weekends as an Army reservist and the rest of my life working as a waitress or bartender at various local establishments. In 2004, I fulfilled my obligation with the Army and received an honorable discharge. That same year, I also became a statistic: a single mother. I struggled for a year and a half working odd jobs, some of which included picking up trash on the side of the road for cash.

In 2006, I married and became a stay-at-home mother and immediately told myself that I would never have to worry about my future again. Three years later, the proud mother of two children under 5 years old, I found that my worrying had just begun. Again, I was a single mother, armed with only a high school diploma and a resume that included five years of inactivity in the workforce.

After months of struggling and fighting the decision, I enrolled in Victoria College. In the days leading up to my first day of class, I was full of fear. What if I wasn't smart enough? What if I was too old? What if I failed at this endeavor, too? As I did in high school, I let my low self-esteem guide my life, and I made simple goals. I would attend class and try to pass my courses so I could at least get an associate degree. I would do only what was needed to barely get by, because that is what was always expected of me.

Immediately, my life changed. I not only passed my classes, but I was getting A's, and in the spring of 2011, I received an invitation to join Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society of two-year colleges. I became active in the Zeta Gamma Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, and I have held two offices within my chapter, vice president of scholarship and chapter president. I received the Victoria Distinguished Scholar Award and a Faculty Memorial Scholarship.

Then, on April 6, I was elected to serve as the Division II international vice president of Phi Theta Kappa, the highest pinnacle of achievement that a two-year college honor student can reach. I now serve with four other international officers in an organization that boasts more than 2 million members.

The achievements I have earned were only possible because of Victoria College. The faculty and staff at VC made me realize that I was in control of my destiny and that I could truly "go far" with Victoria College. My future includes destinations I can only imagine because now Ivy League institutions are recruiting me, instead of the other way around.

I am immensely grateful for the opportunities that Victoria College has provided me, and as I look back at my past and dream about my future, I embrace the words of Winston Churchill: "Success is not final, failure is not fatal, and it is the courage to continue that counts."

Toni Marek lives in Victoria and received Victoria College's Distinguished Scholar Award in 2012. She is studying communications.

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