“Why I Attend” — A Personal Essay

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Carmelo Quinones

Every BCC student has a different life story that brought them to our campus. Here is an especially memorable one from Carmelo Quinones Jr.

Why I Attend

One of my favorite quotes that I live every day goes like this: “It takes a great deal of courage to leap into the unknown and step in the direction of your dreams.”

My name is Carmelo Quinones Jr. I’m a Bronx native. My parents are from the great island of Puerto Rico. I was raised in the south side of the Bronx with two sisters. I was brought up in a Hispanic home with strong characters where things usually ran on a tight schedule. Attending school was important to me because I was an only boy and played by myself most of the time. I had to be my own self.

While attending school, I knew I wasn’t a normal kid. When I was a young student, my parents failed to notice a slight learning disability. I wasn’t able to read at a normal grade level. While attending the sixth grade, my teacher take notice of me and was able to get me the proper help to correct my inability to pick up reading at my level. This gave me the positive mindset to continue forward and achieve. In middle school, education gave me an entrance to what I would one day become. My goal was to achieve more and more in my education, because without it I wasn’t truly complete. Approaching high school graduation, my advisor asked me if I would be attending college. I knew I wouldn’t be able to because the military was where I wanted to begin my career.

It was while I was in service that my inner demons came. Unfortunately, deployment didn’t happen because my mental health wasn’t at the level that it needed to be for the green light to be given to me to deploy. I had many evaluations and a proper diagnosis of what was keeping me from completing my mission. They called it schizoaffective disorder with depression, a mental illness that affects your moods and thoughts. Schizoaffective disorder has symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It runs in my family — my grandmother had schizophrenia and my father did too. This confused me. Did it mean I wasn’t an effective soldier, that I was broken? That having a mental illness made me weak is what came out of my thoughts. My doctors kept me in the hospital for some time because they believed I was a harm to myself. The conclusion wasn’t completely wrong.

With time and building my faith stronger than I ever had before, I was able to help myself accept this unfortunate diagnosis. Coming home and working also helped me grow physically, emotionally and spiritually. But the employer I had wasn’t making me happy. The only way I knew how to change this was to change employers and attend school. Starting school again wasn’t easy because there was such a time gap since I had last been in school that my anxiety kept tripping. My faith kept me in touch with my motivation and goal to become an educator. Studying at Bronx Community College opened my eyes to what I didn’t believe could be achievable. In the spring of 2019, my journey began to complete my associate degree in Education and History, with a minor in Education in English.

If it wasn’t for my mentors while I attended high school, achieving a diploma wouldn’t have happened. Now in college, I’ve had mentors and I’ve been a mentor for youth at my former middle school. I’ve giving back to my community many times over. My love of helping young men and young ladies be successful has never changed. Becoming an educator will allow me to teach them about the history of our forefathers and how much you can achieve without looking back. This course of study will help me achieve my career goals of opening mentoring programs in schools where I can help those students who need mentoring as I did growing up. My mental illness doesn’t stop me from achieving the best life I know I can achieve. Why should it prevent others from completing their own dreams?

I never allowed my illness to impact my ability to succeed in school, maintain employment or establish relationships. From the time I was a child, I was sexually abused by my father’s best friend to the time my father passed away. But my ability to complete my mission has never faltered. Because creating better memories with my family and those who need help now is my life’s mission. My ability to perform at levels I couldn’t imagine myself doing before has kept me motivated to prove the abilities I’ve gained. Education and mentoring have created bigger portions in my heart. My job will not be completed until my last dying breath.

The steps I have taken to prepare for the pursuit of my education have been to attend veterans church groups, youth programs in my old middle school and mentoring. My leadership has grown with the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the Male Empowerment Network, where I mentor fellow students in school and help guide them so they don’t make horrible mistakes and can complete school. I’ve chosen Lehman College as the institution to continue my studies in History and English. They have a successful educational program for what I’ve elected to study.

I plan to continue treatment while pursuing an education, continue my veteran church group meetings, help fellow veterans from Wounded Warrior Project and mentor youth and my fellow classmates while I attend Bronx Community College. I’ve elected to stop taking prescribed medication because it clouds my mind and judgment. By keeping an open line to my mental health team in the Bronx VA mental clinic I’ve been able to completely go without meds for several years now. My faith has kept me strong and my continued dedication to public service will keep me going while I complete my education at the same time.

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