Written by Laurie Jachym
Toni Cordell is a true success story of a CPCC student. Although she has faced many challenges throughout her life, she refuses to give up. Now at the age of 73, she continues to passionately pursue her dreams with no intent of stopping.
Toni is a self-identified student with a disability. She began working with a Disability Counselor only 3 years ago. However, she has been a student at the college for a number of years. Before she came to CPCC, she never received accommodations at any point in her educational career, but she believes she was undiagnosed with a learning disability. This was a true struggle according to Toni. Her experience in the educational system as a child with an undiagnosed learning disability was difficult and traumatic. She recalls being aware very early on that she knew that other students were more academically inclined than her. She felt “stupid, like a throw away human being”. She was disappointed that nothing was done to help her as a student during her years in the K-12 school system.
Even though she struggled, she persevered and graduated from high school. She was married a few years later and started a family. Both of her adult children are now very successful in their fields, even though her son was diagnosed with dyslexia. She experienced some troubling times in her personal life, with the loss of a loving spouse, and another marriage that was abusive. However she maintains a strong connection with her children and their families. She also found love in a new spouse and is now happily married.
At the age of 69 she enrolled at Central Piedmont Community College. Toni states that she felt “amazing” and her life improved in so many ways as a result of her involvement with the college. By joining TRiO, Student Life, and PTK, she found a positive community of staff and students that she bonds with, even to this day. She calls it “comradery of compassion”. By surrounding herself with others who she felt like are “committed to your success” she was able to flourish in the educational environment.
It was not until after she sustained a head injury from a bus accident that she was referred to Disability Services. She notes that her short-term memory worsened as a result of this accident. She also noticed challenges with test anxiety, especially with her math classes. She credits her participation in tutoring through TRiO and the Academic Learning Center helped her get through some of the most difficult classes that she faced.
Through this experience, she realized that finding the right math tutor was crucial to her success. Toni provided some words of advice for anyone who is faced with this type of challenge:
“It is essential to feel safe. I worked with a tutor once who wasn’t helpful to me. Math was never easy for me, so don’t tell me ‘it’s easy’ because it’s not easy for me. I always felt like others had power over me. But this time I had to walk away and try something new. Once I did, I found the right tutor for me and it didn’t make me feel stupid anymore.”
Toni’s decision to take initiative and advocate for herself brought her to a better place with her tutoring. By finding a new tutor who was a better fit for her learning style, attending the TRiO workshops, and using her accommodations from Disability Services, she successfully completed her last math requirements last spring and graduated with her Associates in Arts. I was lucky enough to see Toni graduate as I was volunteering at the ceremony in May. It was a very touching moment to see her cross the stage and hug her classmates with feelings of joy that were written all over her face. I know that was a great day for her.
And Toni has not stopped there! She continues to take classes at CPCC and she completed her first book this year! The idea for her book occurred to her years ago, and she finished it this year with the help of some fellow CPCC students. Dakar Justice did the illustrations, who Toni met through a Man Up leadership conference at CPCC. Also another CPCC student, Sara Dir, was Toni’s administrative assistant and she is assisted Toni with publishing and selling her book.
She also credits Liz Rodgers as her motivation and inspiration to become a writer. She explained that taking Instructor Rodgers’ classes helped her find her “writer’s voice.” Toni explains about being a writer,
“I have the courage to write because I’m afraid to fail.”
Toni’s book is titled “The Puppy on the Other Side of the Pond.” Her inspiration to write the book came from her childhood experiences:
“I was never read to as a child. I wrote this book in my own voice for a child.”
The book is all about acceptance and looking beyond our differences. It was important to Toni that she teach children a life lesson with the book. After the story, there are discussion questions in the book to help stimulate conversations between adults and children about the book’s message. Finally, at the end of the book, Toni describes two charities that she has partnered with to donate 10% of the sales towards the charities, which are Freedom School Partners and 4 Paws for Ability.
I could go on and on about Toni, she has many more adventures and stories that I have not even told you about yet! Toni could literally write a beautiful book about her life….maybe one day she will! I hope this student spotlight inspires you to chase your dreams no matter where you are in your life and what obstacles you face. It’s never too late!