graduates-300x218Last summer, I made a promise at the end of a blog about participating in College Summit, a program that prepares inner city high school students to attend college: I announced I would return to the program in 2015. And I kept my promise! From July 23-26, 2015, I worked with four student leaders to find their unique stories and put them down on paper. I was inspired by all of them in different ways, and I’d like to share their stories with you.

As you read about these young leaders, consider the things that stop you in your life. My four students each encountered situations that could have brought them down, but they did not give up on themselves or their dreams. Here are their stories (complete with typos and grammatical anomalies). Their names have been changed for purposes of this article.


Benita, in an initial writing exercise, referred to a “family situation” but did not say what it was. We told her we wanted to know more, and she said she didn’t write more about it because she would cry. I told her it was okay and welcome if she cried. In the next exercise, she revealed, tears streaming down her face, that her dad was arrested in front of her eyes when she was 12 years old, and then was quickly deported. He had been trying to do what he could to put food on the table.

After her dad’s departure, Benita quit playing soccer; she and her two siblings quit school; and her mother quit eating for seven months. But the family ultimately was able to turn their lives around. Benita rejoined the soccer team; all the kids went back to school; and her mother opened a dance studio.

Benita’s dream: to become a history teacher in the neighborhood where she grew up. How remarkable that this young woman wants to give back in the setting that holds so many painful memories. She is creating new and more positive ones.

My dad would take us to Disneyland once a month or even once every week. Our family was very cheerful and probably the happiest people anyone knew. When we would be home or somewhere else we didn’t really have enough food for us to eat. But that didn’t matter to us, all we cared about was being so happy and energetic family.


Jorge’s brother Paul was the first in their family to graduate high school and to go to college. He was Jorge’s idol. When Paul dropped out of college, Jorge began to doubt whether he himself had what it took to make it through college. He spoke about how he started to give up on himself, but he said it looks likely that he will graduate this year. What he didn’t mention (and what I found out from one of the college coaches at the program) was that he has a 3.8 GPA and super high SAT math scores for someone from his background.

Jorge is passionate about computer science and he has started to regain confidence in himself. I see every reason why he is going to be the first in his family to graduate from college.

First period I had a computer science class in which we created our own website, our own game, our own graphics and pictures, and a program for a small robot made out of Legos. Most people thought that this class was boring and pointless, but I honestly thought that this was one of the most fun classes. I wish that I had a computer with all the programs at home to finish it or continue onto something else on my own.


A fireball from the moment we started working together, Jennifer never shied away from the task at hand. This girl from the ghetto is tired of walking by drug addicts every day. She wants more for herself and for her friends and family. Daring to be different from her neighbors, she has excelled in music and theater wants to be an obstetrician. She’s the one who bandages up the bleeding when her family gets scraped up. And I’ve never heard someone so excited while talking about mitosis! Jennifer is unafraid of the 13 years of schooling she will undergo to reach her dream.

Being happy with what I do is an awesome feeling but knowing that it could take me places I could never imagine is even better. I am Jennifer Johnson. I’m from the ghetto. And despite all the negative things that are happening around me I did the things that made me the happiest, and became somebody.


I wouldn’t have guessed that this tiny quiet girl, who at first was reluctant to talk and told us all she had nothing to write about, was captain of her school’s 4-time winning cheer team. Her story of how she got there was inspiring, and even more inspiring was watching her unfold into a true writer.

I compete to fight to the top, although there is no path there. I like taking a step forward knowing I can trip. My shoes aren’t always tied, and there will always be cracks and bumps on the floor, but I will tie my shoes, and nothing will stop me from taking another step forward and wanting to run.

If you let your untied shoes, your role model’s downfall, your background, or a family crisis stop you from playing full out for your goals, I hope the spirit of Benita, Jorge, Jennifer and Sandra inspires you to keep reaching, fighting, and celebrating.

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