This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
There are a lot of things you learn very quickly as a college student. One is that there may be a few classes that you wish you never had to take. At Community College of Philadelphia, I certainly had a few – basic English and math, to be exact – but in the end it was worth the time spent because it knocked out requirements that I needed to graduate.
But another thing I learned at CCP is that one person can make a huge difference in how well you do academically and socially. For me that person was my English professor Eleanor Cunningham. I met her during my sophomore year and she offered her help to her students toward the end of the semester.
Honestly, I don’t know where I would be if not speaking to her. The course that Mrs. Cunningham taught was called Introduction to Speech Communication. She holds a degree from Temple University and is a huge Philadelphia Phillies fan.
Prior to choosing my classes, I took a look at Temple University’s required classes for a journalism major. Why Temple? My high school counselor and teachers continuously asked this question at the time I was preparing for college. Even my friends asked why not simply leave Philadelphia and start anew somewhere else?
Yes, I knew of all the other schools with awesome journalism programs; University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, just to name a few. Still, Temple University was always on my tongue when people asked me what college I planned on attending.
From the list that I had printed out from Temple’s website, I had decided to follow it and take the matching classes at CCP. I think, at the time, I was not even going to stay and acquire a degree from CCP. But then I began talking to Mrs. Cunningham about my options. She helped me make the decision of staying to complete my degree and possibly join some of the school’s clubs.
Once I found out that Mrs. Cunningham was also a counselor I decided that it would be wise to see her on a regular basis, not just during English class. I would talk to her sometimes during her office hours and sometimes after class. As the semesters continued, I found myself going to Mrs. Cunningham’s office for just about anything relating to class.
Most professors are busy and rarely have time to actually sit down and talk with students about how they are doing and if they need help. It’s hard sometimes trying to find someone that you feel you can actually form a relationship with.
I took an anthropology class prior to meeting Mrs. Cunningham. This class was the ideal setting of what I had expected a college course to be like, and the workload prepped me for upcoming courses at CCP and university classes like those at Temple.
The class was small so my fellow students and I had the professor all to ourselves if we needed assistance with anything, but the professor seemed distant outside of the typical teacher-student instruction.
I met the same type of relationship while taking a creative writing course. In this class the professor was nice and would always offer his help, but kept his focus mainly on the course material which was scriptwriting. That slowly began to bore many of us because we wanted variety. Some of us were fiction writers and poets and wanted equal attention given to those areas.
But I wanted the same feeling and care with this professor that I had shared with Mrs. Cunningham. I realize that the experience I had with her is sometimes rare and often hard to find, so though I’m now a Temple student and a short distance away, I try and visit her every chance I get.
Every day I carry with me the last thing she said to me during a ceremony CCP held for its creative writing graduates. She said through a smile, “I’m here for you. I’m so proud of you.”
Those words have made all the difference.