French novelist Gustave Flaubert said, "You must write for yourself, above all. That is your only hope of creating something beautiful."
Although Flaubert passed away in 1880, this quote of his continues to speak volumes.
BMCC alumna Lori Colón, and student Sheldon Porter, both Liberal Arts majors, know quite well what Flaubert was talking about. Non-traditional students who returned to college after more than 10 years in the working world, Colón and Porter thought enrolling at BMCC later in their lives would be hard enough.
But it was a walk in the park compared to the challenge they faced this past fall—writing about themselves for a national Coca-Cola Scholarship facilitated by Phi Theta Kappa [PTK].
“It’s funny, but in general, we’re not taught to, or encouraged to, brag about ourselves,” says Colón modestly. “It was tricky to write about myself in this essay without coming off a certain way.”
As members of PTK, a national honor society that recognizes the achievements of students at 2-year colleges, Colón and Porter received information about the 2010 Coca-Cola Scholarships, and decided to apply. First, they submitted their personal essays to PTK.
Impressed with their writings, BMCC English professors Zhanna Yablokova and Joyce Zonana, along with Senior Vice President Sadie Bragg and President Antonio Pérez, nominated Colón and Porter for the Coca-Cola All-State Community College Academic Team.
“They represented the diversity of the college,” says Yablokova. “Their submission essays were about their non-school obligations, academic achievements and honors.”
PTK and Coca-Cola open many doors for students
Hard work pays off, and both Colón—who graduated from BMCC in December and currently attends Columbia University, and Porter—were honored at a special PTK luncheon in Albany this spring.
At the luncheon, they received a scholarship, an award, and first team placement in the Coca-Cola All-State Academic Team, proving their personal essays truly struck a chord with the judges.
Professors Yablokova and Zonana helped guide Colón’s and Porter’s submission essays for Coca-Cola Scholarships. “They were absolutely amazing,” says Colón of her mentors. “They were spot-on with my essay, and even now, at Columbia, I’ve been able to use their feedback for my writing.”
According to Yablokova, Colón and Porter are passionate about what they do, “and their passion made their writing engaging, eloquent and inspirational,” she says.
Zonana agrees: “I was impressed with their honesty, integrity, and modesty,” she says. “I think these are the qualities that made them stand out, though their stories are, ultimately, not that different from those of many, many students at BMCC and throughout CUNY.”
Lori’s dancing guides her through life
Colón’s Coca-Cola/PTK essay focused on her love of Salsa dancing, and how it ties into her community service.
Colón has danced her whole life. When friends told her about the Global Leadership and Achievement Foundation, an organization dedicated to combating social ills faced by the inner-city youth of Jersey City, NJ, she wanted to help.
She started fundraising for the organization and her efforts provided school supplies and mentoring opportunities, “to help children find role models and develop the self-esteem necessary to protect them from forces that threaten their futures.”
Since becoming involved with the Global Leadership and Achievement Foundation, Colón has taught children how to Salsa dance, and led dance lessons at various company holiday parties throughout New York and New Jersey. “Teaching and performing, particularly on behalf of children, has become a way for me to contribute to my community,” she wrote in her Scholarship essay.
Encouraged by her father to take up Salsa dancing after years of studying ballet, Colón loves that Salsa very group-oriented. “It makes a party go, and people really enjoy the lessons,” she says. “Plus, I like being able to share the cultural aspect of Salsa dancing with others.”
The psychology of dance
Colón, who had a 4.0 average while at BMCC, is currently majoring in psychology at Columbia University. “Psychology is a science, but it can also be creative,” she says. “On the surface, it may seem so different from dance, but psychologists interpret and help their clients express emotions in healthy and positive ways.”
She also works part-time in the fashion industry and continues to teach dance and fundraise on behalf of children and teenagers. “I have done a lot, but I never let go of my dream for a college education.”
Colón has absolutely nothing but praise for her time at BMCC. “I was inspired by the subway ads that say, ‘Start Here, Go Anywhere’,” she recalls about her decision to return to college when she felt good and ready. “I thought that was brilliant. It was a motto I needed to stick with. And it’s true—BMCC really caters to students who want to succeed.”
A ‘professor’ returns to school
Sheldon Porter, a part-time BMCC student, is also a professional artist. A stand-out student, his artwork has been featured on campus and on BMCC’s Web site. He graduated high school in the 80s, and 25years later, decided to give college a try.
A songwriter, performer and illustrator, Porter jokes that getting him to open up about his life for his Scholarship essay, was like “pulling teeth,” for Professors Yablokova and Zonana.
“I didn’t realize the essay was going to be so autobiographical,” he laughs. “But I viewed [Yablokova and Zonana] as my writing coaches.”
Also a PTK student with a 4.0 GPA, Porter was inspired to enroll at BMCC by both his daughter and a close friend, who enjoyed their own times in college.
“I was very hesitant to be an older student,” he admits, which was the focus of his Scholarship essay. “But everyone at BMCC has been wonderful and made me feel at home. I’ve had so many doors opened for me since I’ve been back in school.”
A role model to BMCC students of all ages, Porter says that some students affectionately call him, “professor,” a nickname that makes him smile.
“Being in school now gives me a chance to find myself,” he says. “I’m very thankful to BMCC for providing me platforms like this Scholarship where you can express yourself creatively in so many areas.”
Now a grandfather to twin girls, Porter wants his granddaughters to look at him as an inspiration. Slated to graduate next year, he’d like to attend art school after BMCC.
As a non-traditional student, Porter says in order to get through BMCC, he tries to figure out how each class can strengthen his life in some way. “Sometimes, it’s harder than others,” he laughs, “but I’ll tell myself things like, ‘well, I always did want to learn Spanish…’”
Porter, who is “honored” to be recognized by PTK and Coca-Cola, credits BMCC for helping “an old flower like myself bloom new again.”