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From Adversity to Achievement: An EMERGE student's inspiring personal statement

Meet John H., a remarkable senior at Spring Woods High School in Spring Branch ISD who exemplifies determination and resilience. In middle school, John made the difficult decision to leave his parents in Mexico and move in with his aunt and uncle in Texas in hopes of receiving a better education. Now he's headed to Carnegie Mellon University with dreams of becoming a software developer and creating a tutoring system that uses artificial intelligence to provide personalized instruction and support for students from low-income communities. We're excited to share the personal statement he wrote as part of his college application journey. We hope his story will inspire and empower others to overcome barriers and reach for their dreams.

Motorcycles, horses, and cows combined outnumbered people. Everyone knew each other's name. Aging trees and blooming flowers surrounded people as they worked their farmlands. Sometimes there were huge droughts that left maize plants turning yellow till eventually dying and wild animals going to sleep with empty stomachs. The entire town owned family farms which meant relying on strong prayers to God for a season full of rain for financial stability. Back in the classroom, learning could be just as unsteady. First through sixth grade students were combined with one teacher that taught all subjects. Students sat in a circle and made due with sparse, worn books and an old, green chalkboard. You would see the teacher struggle to balance differentiating the subjects between age groups in one room. The expectation was that students could be sustained on rudimentary reading, writing, and math skills. After all, students would eventually join their parents in the fields to work, continuing a cycle of calloused hands and sunburned skin. This was the way of life in El Sermon, Mexico – my hometown.

In sixth grade, my parents gave me the choice – to move to the United States but at the cost of me going alone. My uncle and aunt, who were complete strangers to me, would take care of me while I lived in America. The thought of saying goodbye to everything – my parents, my siblings, my friends – terrified me. But the glimpses of the life awaiting me if I stayed petrified me more. I yearned for softer hands; I yearned for stability; I yearned for a better life.

So I left.

I remember walking into an American classroom for the first time. There was a board in the front of the room that projected reading passages and math problems where the teachers and students could take turns reading and writing on the board using a special pen. Colorful flags and posters hung around the room, with words like “Never say ‘I can’t.’ Always say ‘I’ll try.’” I discovered what a “gradebook” was and how teachers determined your performance in class by your work and effort, and then you received a number (or grade) for said work. You learned with kids that were the same age as you and you had multiple teachers teach subjects. Seeing the drastic change and the resources that students could have, I suddenly realized that there were no barriers on what I could learn.

I became hungry to learn everything and use every resource that was offered to me. After hearing about something interesting in class, I found myself going home to my computer, opening Google, and researching everything I could about the subject. I pushed myself to study more, to catch up on the years of lost learning. Even now, I am taking the hardest classes, sitting in the computer lab late after school to prepare for Computer Science competitions, knowing that even if I struggle I am still learning.

I find myself now on the precipice of another change. Another choice where this time there will be no aunt and uncle to support me like before. I will be the first in my family to attend college. I will be truly alone, but unlike my decision to leave Mexico, I know what is out there waiting for me. I have seen the immeasurable opportunities that going to college has to offer and I intend to indulge in it all. In doing so, I prove to my family and the friends I left in El Sermon that my choice was not in vain. I plan to return to Mexico, showing my community that ambition grows beyond the maize plants and horses in the fields. That stability can be worked towards and not codependent on temperamental weather. That an education can provide more than ever imagined.

This is what I hope for. This is what I carry. This is my choice.


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