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2023 - Tara Retondo: Nothing or no one will ever decide where I end up in life except me

Tags: Commencement | Graduation Essays
Published 12/11/2023
Elgin Community College December 2023 graduate Tara Retondo

Elgin Community College December 2023 graduate Tara Retondo

When I was a young girl, at only nine years old, my life became predetermined. Since I was born, my parents and teachers knew I struggled with learning and decided to figure out why in third grade. After two days of testing, I was given the diagnosis of nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD). Along with this diagnosis, the future of my education was laid out entirely in the form of a thirty-eight-page packet. These pages explained how children with NVLD will most likely never receive A’s and how they’ll almost certainly never graduate college. This defining moment has fueled my entire life’s mindset from then on: nothing or no one will ever decide where I end up in life except me. 

My dream goal for years was to work in the mental health field because, as someone who had a battle with mental illness, I would find meaning in helping others through theirs. I was even enrolled at Elgin Community College years ago but had to drop all my classes suddenly due to my mental health. I returned to ECC in the fall of 2022, which was perfect timing since the Recovery Support Specialist Program was starting. This program has been an extraordinary life-changing opportunity for not only myself but also for others in recovery. 

I have never felt safe or respected at school in the past few years. Teachers always talked to me condescendingly, and they made me feel inadequate. They would only ever focus on my weaknesses and never my strengths. At ECC, however, I have felt welcomed and comfortable. I’ve met professors who believe in students like me more than anyone ever has, and they have made me realize I’ve barely scratched the surface of my full potential in the mental health field. 

ECC shows students all the pathways toward achievement rather than the barriers they may encounter. My next path is to continue learning and pursue an Associate of Applied Science degree after I graduate from the RSS program. This route specifically accommodates my NVLD struggles in math since it is the one roadblock I didn’t think I could get past. Now, not only will I have the honor of graduating from the RSS program, I can achieve my full dream of becoming a therapist. I always knew it deep down, but in the end, ECC confirmed that I’m not just some learning disorder statistic. I have just as much capability of reaching my goals as anyone else. 


Tara Retondo '23

Basic Vocational Certificate – Recovery Support Specialist

Bartlett, Ill.