find­ing my path



Laura Zottarelli

Grow­ing up, I had, and still have, a trou­bled home life. Both of my broth­ers strug­gle with ad­dic­tion. It is, un­for­tu­nately, my re­al­ity. I wake up and go to school ev­ery day know­ing that at any mo­ment I could be get­ting a phone call that will change my life. Not only does it af­fect my house­hold, but also my com­mu­nity. When I started high school, a teacher said, “You’re Michael’s sis­ter?” I said, “Yes,” and she shook her head as if she was dis­ap­pointed in me. Their mis­takes and rep­u­ta­tion car­ried onto my own. De­spite my sit­u­a­tion be­ing a challenge, it is the rea­son why I am so de­ter­mined to achieve my dreams and suc­ceed. I want to build a name for my­self – my own name – so that peo­ple do not judge me based off the de­ci­sions of my broth­ers. In­stead, I am striv­ing for re­spect – for peo­ple to value me for my ac­com­plish­ments and my con­tri­bu­tions to my com­mu­nity.

Where did I plan to start my jour­ney? Well, that is a story on its own.

Ber­gen Com­mu­nity Col­lege was not my first choice com­ing out of high school. I orig­i­nally wanted to at­tend a four-year in­sti­tu­tion, specif­i­cally Mon­mouth Uni­ver­sity, but it did not work out due to fi­nan­cial rea­sons. But, be­cause I grad­u­ated in the top 15 per­cent of my high school class, I was for­tu­nate to qual­ify for the NJ Stars pro­gram. If it were not for this pro­gram, out-of-pocket costs would be un­af­ford­able. I would prob­a­bly have to look at other op­tions for my ed­u­ca­tion, such as a trade school. This was an ex­tremely rough tran­si­tion for me be­cause all of my friends went away to col­lege and I was still home where I did not want to be. For a while, I was mis­er­able.

Ar­riv­ing at Ber­gen, I knew I wanted to make the best of my two years, re­gard­less of my feel­ings. I was al­ways active in or­ga­ni­za­tions and events in high school, so the Stu­dent Government As­so­ci­a­tion (SGA) was def­i­nitely my first op­tion at Ber­gen. When I ap­plied for a sen­a­tor po­si­tion, the ap­pli­ca­tion re­quired me to ob­tain sig­na­tures from var­i­ous peo­ple around the col­lege. Juhi Bhatt, a stu­dent ser­vices pro­fes­sional, said after I ex­plained my sit­u­a­tion, “I see it as Mon­mouth’s loss was Ber­gen’s gain.” It was a breath of fresh air to come into a new school where I did not want to be and still feel that same level of com­fort I re­ceived when I was in Lodi High School.

Mov­ing for­ward, I re­ceived the sen­a­tor po­si­tion and later be­came chair­woman of Ber­gen Com­mu­nity Col­lege at the Mead­ow­lands SGA. SGA changed my en­tire out­look on Ber­gen. I grew to love Ber­gen so much that I de­cided to run for pres­i­dent of SGA…and I won.

The prin­ci­ples I learned, and con­tinue to learn here, are what I wished I had learned sooner. I have met my best friends and some of the most im­pact­ful peo­ple in my life. Stu­dent ser­vices pro­fes­sional Greg Fenkart and pro­fes­sor Meche­line Farhat turned into life men­tors who mean every­thing to me be­cause I did not have that guid­ance when I first came into col­lege. Ev­ery­one at Ber­gen was so will­ing to of­fer his or her as­sis­tance. They are most im­por­tantly, re­lat­able.

After I grad­u­ate, I want to take what I have learned from this ex­pe­ri­ence and use it in the fu­ture to help me achieve my per­sonal dreams – and in my com­mu­nity. Although it was not what I wanted at the time, in ret­ro­spect, at­tend­ing Ber­gen has def­i­nitely been one of the best de­ci­sions I could have ever made in my life.

I do not re­gret one minute spent at this in­sti­tu­tion.

12 AU­GUST 2016 (201) FAM­ILY 201mag­a­


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