2015 Student Essay Winner Dottie Pratchard

2016 SEC Winner Dottie Pratchard

2015 SEC Winner Dottie Pratchard

2016 SEC Winner Paloma Marinelarena

Old Is Never Too Old

Grandmothers are not typical students walking the halls of Diablo Valley College. The thought of attending college again both excited and frighten me. I left college as a sophomore with poor grades and was now starting over.

It takes courage to start over. I had some courage, but not enough to take a face-to-face class. I signed up for one online so I would never have to see anyone in person. I thought if it is too hard, I could quit without anyone knowing.

As I sat at my computer to sign into my English class, it occurred to me I had never passed an English class. I hated English! The first thing I saw on the webpage was a picture of a kind looking man with salt and pepper hair. His smile melted my fears momentarily. Professor Tom Leal’s bio emulated an approachable vibe.

Nonetheless, my anxiety intensified after reading the course requirements. This was my first college class in nearly thirty years, but I noticed the passion with which Professor Leal taught English. He used humor, style, and panache to direct his class and explained lessons with clarity. Even though it was an online class allowing him to be allusive, Professor Leal was always available. I remember working on an assignment at midnight and Professor Leal was online interacting and answering questions.

During one conversation, I had confided in Professor Leal that I thought Freshmen English was too hard and I needed to drop the class, explaining I had failed almost every English class I had taken. He said, “If you quit you will never know if you can succeed. Anyone can quit. If you work hard and with my help, you can do well in this class.” He encouraged me and explained things that caused me difficulty. He not only pointed out what I did wrong, but also what I did right. Once when I felt like quitting, he told me my writing had markedly improved. Professor Leal built my confidence to stay in school by reminding me that as an older student, I am more focused now than when I was younger. On a paper that I struggled with he wrote, “‘I am not concerned that you have fallen—I am concerned that you arise.’ (Lincoln)”

I was so encouraged by that quote and I realized that he genuinely cared whether I succeeded. I earned an “A” and understood I wasn’t too old for school. Professor Leal imparted his love for English so much that I majored in English, earning my AA. I am now a published writer, and currently I give back by tutoring students, hopefully with the same passion and love for English that Professor Leal communicated to his students.

Professor Leal showed his students generosity and enthusiasm through his teaching. I want to honor him by paying it forward in the same spirit he encouraged others by teaching it doesn’t matter if you fall, it matters that you get back up.