A student at Carroll Community College overcame a rigorous major, a language barrier and a challenging school-life balance before receiving her associate’s degree.
Yelyzaveta Leach, 40, is one of the graduates from the college’s class of 2021. The school held a drive-through diploma pick-up, like last year, to celebrate commencement Friday and 157 graduates drove through. Pictures could be taken in the gymnasium and The Cow ice cream truck was on standby.
Trish Carroll, the college’s chief communications officer, said Leach was a candidate for the annual President’s Academic Excellence Award, the College’s highest award to graduates. Although Leach did not win, Carroll said it was competitive and Leach’s story jumped out at her.
Leach is originally from Ukraine but moved to the United States in 2006 with her husband, Damon, who was stationed at the U.S. Navy base in Pesacola, Florida. It’s where her 12-year-old daughter was born. Her youngest daughter, 10, was born in Maryland. Leach now resides in Manchester.
Leach knew she wanted to go back to school, she had attended a university in Ukraine, and was happy she chose CCC.
“I think they have very good plans for their lessons,” Leach said about the college, adding that the professors do not ask for more than they give. She called them amazing and noted that they want students to succeed.
She studied associates of applied science in computer information systems but initially she was studying art. She draws, though not professionally. Hand-drawn portraits she made with charcoal or black pencils hung in the background on her wall while she spoke during a video chat.
It was Leach’s twin sister who encouraged her to switch majors. Her sister also studied computer programming.
“Programming is interesting,” she said. “It’s hard, but it’s interesting.”
Not only was Leach one of few women but one of few students older than the high school or college age.
“And then I open my mouth,” she said, referring to her accent. “I think I had the worst panic attack in my first class.”
The worst part was entering the classroom and thinking about how she would be heard and worrying about understanding the teacher’s accent. On top of that, learning computer programming was like learning another language, she said.
Although she thought she was “going to die” in her first class, it got better.
She added everyone was nice, respectful and made her feel comfortable. She said they were given something new in every class.
“I never thought I could do it, and I actually got an A,” she said.
Leach graduated with a 4.0 grade point average and wants to get her bachelor’s degree in computer information systems after she learns how to use a few programs on her own.
Carroll, the communications officer, encouraged her to find scholarship opportunities. She said later that Leach’s face lights up when she talks about school and her accomplishments.
“You worked really hard for that,” Carroll said.
Leach started classes at CCC in 2016 and was challenged to juggle school and her personal life. It wasn’t easy, she said, but her husband helped her a lot.
“I did not notice in our usual life how much time we spend on simple house tasks, such as cooking and cleaning,” she said in a message. “My family always helped me with those. In addition, my husband was cooking many dinners, so I could finish my homework. He is a great cook.”
Although computer programming classes were a challenge, Leach said more adults should try it.
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““It might be … really scary but it’s not too awful,” she said. “It’s good.”