From Depressed Teenager to 4.0 student: SCCC Helped Me Become the Best Version of Myself

An honest reflection of my time spent at Suffolk County Community College


Leanne Pastore, Editor-in-Chief

I was 13 when I began to wake up every morning feeling like a gray cloud was looming over me. I wasn’t sure why I suddenly felt this way–so sad and hopeless seemingly out of the blue. Nothing had happened or changed: it felt as though a switch had been flipped in my brain.

When I entered high school a few years later, my depression became much worse. This felt warranted, as at this time I was being bullied. Everything about me was criticized by my peers: the way I walked, talked and dressed. My very being. I was picked on for simply existing, really. Any self-confidence I had at that time, which was very little in the first place, dwindled until there was none left.

After a while, if you’re vulnerable enough, the way I was at that time, you start to believe the awful things people say about you to be true. At this point, I was so overwhelmed with feelings of depression and being bullied that I began to sleep much more. I wore pajamas every day. I didn’t comb my hair. I didn’t care about anything. I just wanted to sleep. 

I elected to start skipping school in 10th grade, much to my parent’s dismay. I would intentionally miss the bus in the morning. In the beginning, they forced me to go, but after a while, I flat-out refused.

I was failing all my classes because I had so many absences and wasn’t able to complete my work. I gained weight, had few friends, and had no plans for college. But nothing really mattered because I wasn’t even sure I wanted to live anymore.

As a last-ditch effort to get me to graduate with my class, I was placed on home instruction after the administration was queued in by my parents and therapists as to why I was skipping school. I went to the local library three to five hours a day, (depending on which subjects I would be learning that day) five days a week. At the time, it all seemed dreadful, but I’m grateful I was able to graduate with Smithtown West’s class of 2013. 

Post graduation, my mother gave me two options: go to college or find a full-time job. I picked the workforce route in a heartbeat. I was still depressed and in no way, shape, or form, ready for the college experience. I still certainly didn’t want to be around people. But if I needed to be around people, at least with the job option, I’d be making some money, and that sounded good to me. Plus: I could always go to college later on if I wanted to. Plenty of people did it.

I had no work experience, so no one called me back, and the prospect of finding a job looked bleak. That is until I applied at Saf-T-Swim in Smithtown. They called me back almost immediately, and two weeks later was my first day. I was working 35 hours a week in the pool up until I was offered a job as an assistant manager, which was during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Working from home during Covid gave me a lot of time to think and reflect, as I’m sure it did for many people. I realized that while I can thank Saf-T-Swim for so many invaluable things, namely being given a sense of purpose and drive, which, in turn, greatly helped wane my feelings of depression, but I wanted to expand my knowledge and become a more well-rounded person. It was during that time that I began thinking more seriously about enrolling in college. 

Although going to college was always a small thought in the back of my mind, I’m unsure if I would have ever actually enrolled if it weren’t for the pause the pandemic provided. I was much more confident in myself and my work ethic due to the skills I learned in taking a managerial role at Saf-T-Swim. This, paired with the life pause Covid-19 provided and encouragement from my mom pushed me to take the first step and enroll. 

I wasn’t dead set on what I wanted to study, but the end goal was to push myself to become the best version of myself, which in my eyes, included becoming the most educated I possibly could be. I had learned the value of hard work, and I wanted to prove to myself I could do better academically than I had in high school, especially being as I was in a better frame of mind to do so. 

I decided on journalism as my major. I wasn’t sure I’d be any good at it, but I was always a strong writer, and I figured it was more practical than creative writing. What were the chances I’d be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling? Slim to none. Plus: school was fully online. I could earn my degree from the comfort of my bed and with the aid of a mug of coffee at my side. And I didn’t have to be around anyone. 

So for my first three semesters at Suffolk, I sat in my bed all day and completed my coursework. I loved it. Or I thought I did, anyway. I didn’t know any other college experience, and it was the first time in my life I was soaring academically. I was doing extremely well in my classes and getting great encouragement from my professors, especially my introduction to journalism professor, Margaret Altizer. She told me I was a journalist. I was grateful, and just that one statement alone helped me confirm within my mind that I made the perfect choice to study journalism. But last semester, as more classes began shifting back in-person, everything changed. 

If classes had been in-person when I enrolled, I likely wouldn’t have made the choice to go. The thought of being around people who were mostly fresh out of high school and so close to the age group of the people that bullied me, and at 25 years old, terrified me. And so you can imagine my horror when I found out there was only one section of the journalism classes I needed to take to complete my degree works, and that the classes would be in-person.

I was dreading this day, knowing it would inevitably come. On top of that, I was terrified: at this point, I was 27 years old, nearly 10 years older than everyone in my classes, and feeling like a fossil. On the first day of classes, I was alone, and this continued for the first two or three weeks of the semester. Everyone knew each other, and it seemed like I was on the outside of a really cool group that I desperately wanted to be in, but didn’t know how to be a part of. 

I was quite miserable, to be frank. I wasn’t feeling depressed anymore: I was just incredibly anxious at nearly all times. The work was more demanding than ever, and I was in a sea of new faces without a single friend on campus. I cried often, in private, until I began to feel so overwhelmed and out of the loop in one of my classes that I began to cry. And it was in that awful, embarrassing, extremely vulnerable moment, that I locked eyes with Sara. 

Sara and I had been in almost all of our online journalism classes together. Although I had never spoken a word to her, when she saw I was upset, she immediately lept out of her desk and draped her arms around me. She told me it is all going to be okay. And she wasn’t the only one: moments later, in one of my weakest moments, I felt more bodies hugging me, holding me close, and supporting me. It was really freaking embarrassing. Like, really really embarrassing. To this day. But I have had friends on this campus ever since that day. 

For the first time since I could remember, I had a big group of friends around. And it was really freaking cool because I’d never been the person I felt people wanted to be around sheerly because they enjoy my company. And it’s been the best feeling in the entire world. It makes 13-year-old Leanne beam like a six-year-old that just got the Barbie Dream House or Lego set that they’ve been bugging their parents for all year. It’s something I never knew possible: to have a group I can be wholly myself around, flaws and all, and still love me anyway. 

I was doing well in the classes I feared failing, and I had people who supported me in every corner. I was even offered the role of Editor-in-Chief of the student-run newspaper, Compass, this semester, which I happily accepted and is my proudest accomplishment to date and the best opportunity I have ever received. The same semester I was so anxious and terrified about the first half of ended up being the best time of my life. This semester has been even more fun and rewarding, most of which I can thank my amazing friends and members of the Compass.

During my time at Suffolk, I have exceeded my expectations academically: I am a 3.9 student and on my way to Stony Brook University next semester to continue studying journalism. In pushing myself out of my comfort zone and being forced to be on campus, I have realized my full potential and gained skills I know I will carry with me, not only throughout the next steps of my higher education and career as a journalist but for the rest of my life. 

Thank you to my mother for pushing me to enroll, my mentor, Carl Corry, who has pushed me to be the journalist I have grown to become and always taking the time out of his day to ensure my anxiety is eased and has taught me near everything I know about journalism and reporting, Dr. William Burns for believing in me and allowing me the opportunity to be the Editor-in-Chief this semester, my managing editor, Layne Groom, who has been the best right hand a girl could ask for, and all of my wonderful friends who have made going to the Ammerman campus a true joy. 

Enrolling at Suffolk is the best decision I ever made for myself, and I have made my 13-year-old, depressed self so proud. I would not be the person I am today without taking this step in my life. I am so thankful for all the opportunities and grateful to the wonderful people who have given me so many fond memories of my time here.