Owen is a SURVIVOR!

Going into my freshman year of high school, I had just started playing football for the first time, and between practices and homework, I was having real trouble finding time for the camping trips and boy scout activities I’d always loved. I had always been told, though, that playing sports while remaining active in your troop is very attainable if you’re dedicated enough, so I put my head down and attempted a balance between these commitments. Sure, there were occasional conflicts, but I set my priorities straight and even served as the capital SPL, never missed a meeting. I was beginning to feel my first big time crunch, but I managed.

However, things soon didn’t feel right as a lump in my left armpit slowly grew. My mom arranged a doctor’s visit after I mentioned it to her, but he reassured us that it was likely only a clogged sweat gland. This was my first year in football, after all, and my body probably wasn’t used to the constant sweating and dirtiness. But, as the mass continued to grow and my energy waned in the evenings, I knew something was wrong I brought this up again to my mom after a football practice, and she immediately brought me to a local prompt care. This visit led to a biopsy, and soon enough I was diagnosed with ALCL a type of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma I had cancer, and my priorities quickly turned on their head.

I mean, of course right? Thinking about it, I had always heard stories about people “fighting bravely” following a cancer diagnosis. But the sword of powerlessness I felt looking at the bald-headed kids in the waiting room of St jude, knowing I would soon become one of them, evokes almost and iconic hilarity about the situation. What more could I really do but sit through the chemotherapy treatment to come and wait for all this to blow over?

My new oncologist almost immediately began the first of my sixth plan treatments, which involved a 6-day hospital stay while I receive chemotherapy. The constant ensuing stays and check ups scraped by with a painful slowness, and I wanted nothing more then to return to the life of high school, football, and boy scouts I previously taken for granted. My constant walks through the hospital’s unknowns kept me saying, but I inevitably return to the same austere room on the fourth floor. This gross over abundance of time was a frustrating reversal of the crunch I feltBefore, and I often felt myself half-consciously staring at the clock opposite my bed, counting the hours till I’d be set free.

But this simple, Borden – driven fixation soon became important to me, as I made a seemingly everyday observation which changed my perspective on many things in life. That clock kept on ticking. It was always counting down the seconds, completely indifferent to my situation. No matter what, it just kept on ticking.

With this, I began to realize that this whole cancer experience would be over in its time. I trusted I was in good hands with my doctors, and although the five months they said treatment should last seemed like an infinite stretch of suspension and hardship, it became so much more manageable knowing that time could not slow down, and it would all be over after so many revolutions of the clock.

I was officially declared in remission after these 5 months of treatment, and could finally get back to my life as I knew it before. Since then, I experienced another important realization about that clock: it also keeps ticking for our everyday lives. Many of us take things for granted, and go through the motions of school or scouting or whatever else it is we do. But if it’s worth doing, why not do it well? Why not go for that a in calculus, apply to that college you think you don’t have a shot at, go on that camping trip, immerse yourself in pursuing that curious passion, or enjoy every second spent with friends?

After realizing my passion for camping while in the hospital, I didn’t miss a single monthly camp out for almost 2 years afterwards, which enabled me to still earn my ego well before my 18th birthday. And although I sometimes procrastinate more than I should, I’ve endeavored to maintain almost straight A’s throughout my high school career, and have just recently achieved my long-time goal of being accepted into Purdue for engineering. I’ve also found enormous personal success in swimming and track, and despite some remaining weakness and nerve damage in my left arm, my coaches can hardly discern a difference.

Through all this, I’ve learned that at the end of the day, we need to accept that not everything is going to go perfect in life. But, we can achieve amazing things by using our precious seconds wisely, and enjoying the times when things are going right. Take chances, work hard, and explore; and in the hardest times remember that the clock keeps on ticking.

~~Owen Jones

Cancer Took Me By Surprise…

Cancer took me by surprise; like a prowler. Cancer was lurking in the shadows of my body waiting to pounce and rob me of good health and happy times. After a little over two months of feeling tired and being in pain, I was scheduled for an appointment during Christmas break to see a doctor at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite but didn’t think my symptoms would turn out to be anything serious.

I was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma. My diagnosis came during the final semester of my senior year in high school in January of 2020. Prior to my diagnosis, I was planning and looking forward to attending a college scholarship competition, prom, senior trips and other senior inspired “fun” activities, but instead the first week of January began with numerous doctor’s visits, scans, blood work and surgery. It is now March and I am finishing my second cycle of treatment and life as I knew it is no longer the same.

Cancer has stolen memories of completing high school with friends, fun and senior year fanfare. I will be missing my prom, school musical and other activities I was looking forward to. Cancer has robbed me of my physical appearance making me self-conscious of going out in public because of hair loss, dark patches on my skin and weight loss. Cancer has robbed me of a healthy body and plaguing me with nausea, vomiting, fevers, pain and foggy thinking.

Cancer has compounded my struggle with side effects from the over 12 medications that I must take causing changes in my mood, vomiting, itching, changes in my taste buds and stomach pain. Cancer has also snatched opportunities for me to attend scholarship competitions, music auditions and other pre-college activities that I was looking forward to. Something as simple as walking from my room to the bathroom tires me. Something as simple as enjoying a favorite meal can be disappointing because it now tastes metallic.

Thankfully my body sounded an alarm and has begun to fight back with the help of doctors, chemotherapy and other support staff. I have decided to turn a negative situation into one of positivity. I never would have chosen this journey, but I am grateful for the amazing doctors, nurses and support staff I have met along this journey. I am grateful for my family and friends that support me physically, emotionally and spiritually and provide daily encouragement. I am also grateful that I have found strength and courage I never knew I had.

Cancer took me by surprise, but I have decided to surprise cancer and persevere through this tough situation. Cancer has not deterred me from moving forward with my plans. I will be attending Georgia College in Honors Program in the Fall. I will major in Public Health and minor in French.

After graduation, I plan to attend graduate school and join the Peace Corp as an international assignee. Utilizing an award from your organization will help me reach this goal by helping to cover costs for books and fees while in school. This will also help ease the burden and stress for my parents who have hefty bills associated with my cancer treatment.

~~Jasmine Harrison

Meet Mia Chiasson…A Survivor!!

Ten years ago I was diagnosed with Wilm’s Tumor Cancer in my right kidney and other organs. At seven years old, I was above the average age for the disease, which caused the cancer to spread throughout my torso and made a two hour surgery last 8 and a half hours, leaving a scar of almost a foot long. Spending second grade year in a hospital away from home was very challenging, at such a young age I was exposed to so many things that no one should ever be exposed to. Transitioning from a healthy dancer into someone who could not even leave their house was extremely rough.

Going through this tough experience has helped me so much as a person, and I would not be who I am today if it did not happen to me. Having cancer gave me so many opportunities to meet new people and travel to different places with my hospital and other cancer survivors. It showed me that not everything will go the way you had planned, and that anything worth doing is going to take time and effort – nothing will be handed to you. It also opened my eyes to the career I am determined to pursue for the rest of my life.

In the hospital, my Child Life Specialist showed me that anything was possible, and she helped me understand what was truly happening inside my body with my illness. I want to become a CLS to be a friend to those who need it most during their hard times; to be able to explain to the patient and their family what is going on and how to handle the changes. I also love this job because it does not require you to take blood or vitals from the patient, and you are not allowed to wear scrubs – to the child you are just another friendly face in the hospital. The experience that I had with my cancer opened my eyes to other opportunities in the world. I was able to go to Wyoming and Montana with my hospital and seven other hand-picked long term survivors for eight technology-free days, which was a truly life changing experience.

In high school I did five extra-curricular activities that are based on volunteering. Two of those clubs are focused on helping people in need and giving back to our community, and now in college I am in a Childhood Cancer Awareness club that volunteers on a more personal hands-on level. This scholarship is important to me because it feels amazing to be acknowledged for the hardships that were faced at such an early age. This scholarship will give me the opportunity to continue college and help future patients, and that small difference can mean the world to someone struggling, just as it did to me. Having cancer was truly a blessing in disguise, and I can not wait to be able to help children and their families the way that I was helped.

My parents had bought many things over their 15 years of marriage at the point before I was diagnosed: a motorcycle, camper, four-wheelers, and many toys for me and my two older sibling; all of which, were liquidated in less than three months to ensure that I could receive surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Since seven years old, I have made school a priority to ensure a high GPA for as many scholarships as possible. After going through this tough experience has helped me so much as a person, and I would not be who I am today if it did not happen to me. When my sister graduated, she had to pay for college with her own money, and I saw her struggle at times since she did not have the GPA to receive any scholarships, which motivated me even more to get high grades.

More recently, my dad quit his corporate job and created a landscaping business to be able to spend more time with my family. Because of this, we lost his income and had to move out of our house, and did not find another house in time. Before moving on campus at LSU, we were living with friends and my Grandmother. Currently, my brother is in jail and my sister has to live at home because of extreme anxiety and depression. I know that any money I receive through scholarships will help me and my family through this extremely tough time.

~~Mia Chiasson

My name is Grace Miller and I’m a SURVIVOR!!

As citizens of the world, we have a deep responsibility to fulfill each other’s dire need to be molded and shaped into people that will make the world a better place. We have a responsibility to impact others. A responsibility to change lives. Luckily for me, I was born with Von Willebrand Disease, which I have been able to use as an extra opportunity to impact other people’s lives.

To the average Joe’s of the world who sacrifice thriving to just merely survive, a bleeding disorder looks like a burden at face value. Incorrect. So many people who are diagnosed with bleeding disorders don’t realize the immense value of advantages that they are given. Though my experience living with a bleeding disorder I have been able to realize that one of the only things that is better than the value of life itself, is helping others see the value of life.

My bleeding disorder had pushed me into a place where I was broken down to the point of living in an emotional state of envying the dead and constantly wishing that I was obliterated from this earth. I have Von Willebrand Disease to thank for that. I have also realized my own self worth, overcame my darkest demons, and successfully exterminated all suicidal thoughts from my life completely. I have learned to truly and genuinely love life and the people in it. I have Von Willebrand disease to thank for that as well.

Life is precious. Sadly, hearing other people say that doesn’t always make a person truly realize life’s value. Sometimes it takes another person loving you so fiercely and so consistently to realize that you are worth of being loved. Other times it may take a simple simple smile form someone you hardly know to keep you alive and breathing for just one more day. Von Willebrand disease has helped me realize that it’s up to me to be that person.

Having realizations and thinking about what I should do means absolutely nothing if I don’t act on it. The fact of the matter is that if being diagnosed with Von Willebrand disease only changes my life, then I haven’t been living as intentionally as I should have been. Reaching out and loving others is so important. Because of all my experiences with medical professionals that have helped me thus far, I have decided to pursue a degree in the medial field so I can help others the way that I have been helped.

Currently, I am a freshman at Ferris State University hoping to graduate with an associates degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography and a bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Systems Administration. My goal is to graduate from college and use those specific degrees to serve in a health care facility in order to help other people. I think that the only appropriate way to close this essay is to end with two very important “thank yous”.

To whom it may concern: Thank you for taking the time to read and evaluate my essay. Your job is a very critical part in a process that helps students achieve their goals. To Von Willebrand Disease itself: Thank you for molding me into a person that looks out for others. A person that utilizes personal hardships to help others. Thank you for changing my life in such a way that motivates me to be a helper, encourager, and lover of people.

~~Grace Miller

Meet Molly Garretson…A Survivor

Storms are a part of life; they are inescapable. My pastor is fond of saying that you are either in the middle of a storm, just left one or are about to enter one. I am smack in the eye of life’s storm. But just as hurricanes shape the beach landscape, adversity molds character. So how is cancer shaping me? Mostly it chisels away at the things that aren’t as important anymore: getting an A in pre-calculus, wondering if I am starting in the volleyball game, or deciding what I’m wearing to school. Cancer highlights what is important: spending time with my family, relying on my faith, eating ripe peaches from our tree, snuggling my dog, reading Harry Potter for the umpteenth time.

I’d like to say cancer has made me more focused on my future, but maybe having cancer is the wind of change – turning the weather vane in my head a different direction – to blow me to a different course. Isn’t that what learning and going to college is about? Discovering what interests you and letting your experiences lead you? I don’t think the person I am today is yet to be defined. The artist isn’t done with me yet.

Surviving cancer means I have a future. This scholarship will allow me to study zoology or biology, but more specifically learn about animals. I see myself ultimately working at an animal rescue facility, in the field doing animal observation and research, or in a zoological or aquatic facility. I will soon begin an internship with a veterinary clinic, but I would also like to volunteer at the zoo or at an animal rehab facility.

My goal is to connect animals and humans to support healing and hope. Support animals are frequently used to help patients; having a positive mental attitude is one of the strongest weapons against diseases like cancer. I also recently learned of a college program that studies service dogs to determine which breed makes the best service dog. Understanding how animals relate to each other and to humans can help benefit both by building relationships. These kinds of projects interest me, as I truly believe animals enrich the human quality of life.

Surviving cancer means I will always have the burn of fatigue behind my eyes that not having my thyroid leaves me. Because I will depend on synthetic thyroid hormone medicine for the rest of my life, I don’t know if I will ever feel fully awake and energetic again. The lesson that I learned from surviving cancer is best illustrated in a quote from The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, “Is your glass half empty or half full?” asked the mole. “I think I’m grateful to have a glass,” said the boy. “Always remember you matter, you’re important and you are loved, and you bring to this world things no one else can.” I am blessed to have been given a chance at a full glass of life.

~~Molly Garretson

I’m Aimee – A Survivor!!

According to the Google dictionary, creativity is the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work. Sometimes, it feels as if there are no original ideas left. It seems as if every original idea in existence has been claimed. Original ideas in novels and TV shows have led people of all races, ages, and identities to be successful. JK Rowling started as nothing and came up with the Harry Potter franchise. Stan Lee invented the Marvel Universe. Every creator has their own success story, all based on their imagination and originality.

There are lesser known people who have been successful through a good imagination. Authors and illustrators spend their entire lives using nothing but their imagination. Social media influencers use creativity to become famous on the internet. There are many different types of success, but every successful journey starts with a creative imagination.

How does this relate to me? How has my creativity led me to be successful? The last four years of high school have been nothing but good to me. I succeeded: I made it to college. Living with a rare genetic disorder has taught me how to navigate the last twelve years of school. I can not be at school like any other normal kid. I had to learn different ways to protect myself from the deadly ultraviolet rays from the sun (and some select light bulbs).

Before I could go to school, my doctors and parents had to make sure the windows were specially tinted to protect me. We invented a special hood to protect my face from the sun. Picture it like a bee keeper had with cloth in the back and a clear film in the front that blocks out 99.99 percent of all UV radiation. This film is hard to make, so it had to be imported from Germany. If it wasn’t for the creative minds of my mom and my doctors, I would never been able to go to school, go outside, drive a car, or live like a normal kid. This is the definition of creative success to me.

When I was sixgteen, I had the huge honor of working at the Niedernhofer Lab at the University of Minnesota. This is something that I had wanted to do for a long time. I moved to Minnesota for the summer between my Junior and Senior year. At first, I was nervous because I was all alone. But quickly, I used my imagination to make the best of my situation. I learned how to live as an adult for the first time in my life.

I consider this to be a huge success story in my life because I learned how to be an adult and work as a research lab technician, something I have always wanted to learn. If it weren’t for my creativity navigating a new climate, culture, and region, I would have never made it. Stories come in all different shapes and sizes. It’s what someone makes of their story that is successful.

~~Aimee Milota

Providing the Light

Extreme fatigue, sudden chills, and the absence of hunger, those were the only symptoms I displayed as doctor after diagnosed me as being “burnt out” and fabricating illness during the final stretch of fourth grade. As the summer commenced and my symptoms did not abate, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at the age of eight. 0.35% of children are diagnosed with cancer, of which 16.60% do not survive. I label myself as lucky, as I contribute to the 83.40% who survived, and although my journey has been onerous, the lessons I have learned are invaluable. This reflection is not to let cancer define me, but to appreciate the journey of learning how to make the best out of life’s precarious situations.

Fighting cancer consumed 5 years of my life and was the most arduous experience I have ever endured. The basis of my treatment revolved around chemotherapy, which saved my life but also came with the dire consequence of consuming my will to live. With potent chemicals coursing through my veins and constant exposure to radiation, my body was destroyed and my mind was shot. I was constantly in excruciating pain and a state of nausea, my energy was stolen from me and would not replenish, and my body was being forced to fight itself. The physical drain was coupled with an inability to focus and attend class, which resulted in me falling behind in school. My social life suffered as well, as I could not keep up with friends and was embarrassed by my loss of hair, and rapid weight gain. I quickly became a shell of my normal self and my quality of life deteriorated. I wish I could say these issues were resolved when my chemotherapy treatment concluded, but the side effects caused by pumping a pubescent body full of chemicals commenced almost immediately. I was diagnosed with abdominal migraines, POTS, and SIBO, which resulted in constant migraines, a shutdown of my abdominal nervous system, the inability to keep food down, and a vacancy of energy.

Throughout the chemotherapy and treatment for the subsequent side effects, I longed to give up. I was understandably in a dark place, but what kept me afloat was my family’s unwavering support and their constant promise that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. At their recommendation, I was able to leverage my experience and continued perseverance in the face of adversity by creating a non-profit aided children during the post cancer transition. When people think of cancer, they associate most of the suffering with physical pain. This non-profit focused on the re-socialization of childhood cancer patients back into normal society post treatment. My unique perspective allowed me to shape a program that first focused on celebrating their past achievement, and second, prepared them for the reality of once again becoming a number in the public-school system. This commitment suddenly gave my battle a sense of purpose. I was no longer fighting for myself, but for these children. I quickly realized that this replenishment of life and joy was spurred by my active commitment to making the best of my situation.

“Things will get better,””better days are ahead,” and “there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”, these cliches were spoken to me again and again throughout my treatment. Every time I heard these, I became angrier, as I knew no one even remotely knew what I was going through. Little did I know that these “cliches” were not spoken to mean things would get better by themselves. On the contrary, I came to realize that these occur when I force things to be better, when I provide the light in the tunnel, when I make the days better. Life is what I make it and the tunnel never ends, it is up to me to provide the light.

~~Michael Mistry

I’m Annie Liu – A Survivor!

I’ve never missed school for a cold, cough, or fever. I’ve always known that my health is important, but I’ve also been terrified to miss school for anything trivial, anything I could ignore until 2:30pm. Even if my head was about to explode or my nose was a snot fountain, it wasn’t anything that Advil, cough drops and a wad of tissues couldn’t fix.

Four years ago, however, I looked in the mirror and saw a large lump on my neck. Huh, I thought, I don’t think Advil can help this time. So I told my mom about it.

After seeing four different doctors, we learned that there was a nodule on my thyroid. My surgeon told me that the nodule was growing, and although it was probably benign, he would eventually need to remove it. Hopefully, that would be during the summer after I graduated high school, and I wouldn’t need to miss any more school than I already had from seeing so many doctors.

I missed another day of school at the end of freshman year to get an ultrasound, thinking it was just a checkup and I might be back in six months for another. But then my mom got a call saying that the nodule was growing faster than before, and Dr. Morris recommended that I should get it removed as soon as possible. “But I’m going to camp in July,” I told her. “And I really think I can make varsity this year.”

So we scheduled the surgery for December break of sophomore year. The nodule still looked benign, so the doctor said that delaying surgery for a few months wouldn’t matter. I told my close friends about it, but I didn’t want to worry them. “It’s a safe procedure,” I said. They still worried, but “the doctor’s done it a million times. I’ll be okay,” I assured them. And I believed it.

I listen to doctors more than other people do. If they tell me “you’re going to be find,” I’m going to be fine. “Don’t look this up online” – I stay off of Google and WebMD. “You can’t eat after midnight” – I stop snacking at 12:01. I was confident that my surgery would be the last time I had to miss school for my health.

I missed a week of school in December when Dr. Morris removed half of my thyroid. My teachers were incredibly understanding and made sure that I had enough time to catch up on material and complete assignments; my guidance counselor even told me that I could postpone my midterms if I needed to. It was the first time I had ever missed a large amount of school and the first time I realized that I could slow down and take time for myself.

On January 2nd, the pathology report arrived. The “nodule” was actually a cancerous tumor. I had thyroid cancer. Once again, I listened to the doctor when he told me that this type of cancer has a 99.9 percent cure rate for patients my age. I would need to get the other half of my thyroid removed and go on medication for the rest of my life, but once again, doctors told, “it’s a low-risk procedure. You have nothing to worry about.” It would be a hassle, but I would be fine.

At the same time, however, I started to wonder. What if I had noticed the lump on my neck a month earlier? What if I had lived elsewhere or had a different diet? What if I had noticed the lump on my neck a month earlier? What if I had lived elsewhere or had a different diet? What if I had gotten the surgery over the summer, like the doctor first recommended? We don’t know when the cancer first developed. Maybe if I had prioritized my health over varsity tennis, if I had been more afraid of what could happen to me, if i tried to take care of myself instead of toughing it out, I wouldn’t have gotten cancer.

I had the second surgery, and I take a little pink pill every morning, and I’m doing great. I’m healthier than ever, partly because I’m more conscious of my sleep, exercise, and dietary habits. I take breaks when I need to, and I know that school and tennis are second to my health. I miss a day of school once every few months to check up with my team of doctors, and the world hasn’t ended. I still have to take the little pink pill, but maybe I can prevent myself from having to take any other medication for the rest of my life. Maybe the next lump I find won’t turn into cancer. And maybe I’ll take a day off the next time I catch a cold.

~~Annie Liu

Stereotyping and Vaccine Hesitancy and its Relationship with Racism

For me, LinkedIn is a special platform filled with myriad talent demonstrated by accomplishments both professional and personal that are regularly posted. It is its own motivational and living body of work made up of this thing we call the collective human experience. From time to time, I am moved to add my voice in a meaningful way with a message that transcends…This is one of those times. The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world up profoundly causing us to take stock of LIFE. I specifically want to spark two points of deep thought and discussion it has revealed – stereotyping and vaccine hesitancy and its relationship with racism. 

As an unapologetically African-American woman who is proud to be who I am, I appreciate and celebrate all this country represents and the opportunities that abound. We need to get to a place that we stop stereotyping each other, which is unfortunately an inherent flaw that works both ways. Instead, accept each other unconditionally as the individuals we are by our character as Dr. King ascribed to. If we do this, we will get to that place we all yearn for. While there is some degree of hesitancy in the African-American community, I can’t believe it doesn’t transcend across all of America. 

I personally know many in the African-American community who want the vaccine, have been vaccinated, have sought out information, and informed others about it. I’m sure this is the case across the country in every community regardless of race. There is no place COVID-19 has not touched so the discussions are taking place. I can appreciate those whose narrative is that African-Americans are hesitant but I don’t think it’s more than other Americans. We are not hesitant. That’s the stereotype component this post addresses. 

The second point is racism and healthcare disparity which has been acknowledged and continues to exist. I believe this is the true causality of why the number of vaccinations in our community is behind the curve of total vaccinations. I read a recent article on the topic of disparity in health care on the New England Journal of Medicine. It struck me so profoundly because it spoke to my story as an unapologetically black woman in America and was the impetus for me reaching out. This is the racism component to this post that we as Americans continue to struggle with. 

I don’t pretend to know the answer to this critical problem. I will leave that up to the experts to solve. It’s just unimaginable that racism and healthcare disparity is presenting as some new epiphany. I do have a suggestion for the experts. Please do the work utilizing a broad scientific study with more than empirical data but solutions to eradicate this scourge before painting the narrative with the broad brush of stereotype that does not speak to the current state of affairs. 

This post is a synopsis of my personal experience that informs the expert position I have lived as an African-American. I reside in metropolitan Atlanta but had to drive 200 miles round trip to get my vaccination. What is that reality?? – Stereotyping or Racial Disparity in Healthcare. That’s my picture receiving my shot. My hope is that I piqued your curiosity to view the milieu of the African-American from an authentic place. Now, I ask that you gain more insight on these points of thought and discussion. Please check out the link to read the article entitled “Without Sanctuary”.   https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2030623?query=WB


Meet Esmeralda…A Childhood Cancer Survivor

As a child, I watched my parents deal with the adversity the world brought them. My parents immigrated from Mexico to the United States seeking a better future for their five children. Only speaking their native language, I was often the translator at doctor appointments and the filling of legal documents. My parents faced numerous hardships with obtaining employment. Due to my parents not graduating from high school, my father is a dairy worker and my mother is a homemaker.

My father’s job is extremely physically demanding, enough to have him get his leg fractured this past year. My father was unable to properly recover because of the economic strain on our family. He continued to go to work because he was the only source of income for a family of seven. My parent’s frugality affected us all, we were unable to do simple things like go on vacations, eat out at a restaurant, or even travel. It also made school difficult due to the insufficient amount of school supplies I had.

Even though I grew up lacking many opportunities, I still managed to do my best academically in order to achieve my future goals. I believe the work I have put into my academic studies shows the outcome of my hard work throughout my four years in high school. The hard work I put into my academic excellence so far has encouraged me to be the person who can advocate for themselves and the one who can help others to create change in our community.

While in high school, I decided to take rigorous courses in order to challenge myself academically. It resulted in being in honors and Advanced Placement English courses. Though English was not my first language, I still managed to learn and over achieve in the language. Aside from my academic achievements in high school, I was able to get involved with my community by being part of extracurricular activities and giving back through community service.

I joined the clubs Friday Night Live (FNL), California Scholarship Federation (CSF), Kerman Youth Commission, and Youth Leadership Institute (YLI). They all contribute to the opportunities that were opened to me which allowed me to participate and help my community. They helped me gain experience in certain situations and develop leadership and communication skills.

A few of those experiences were passing a smoke-free park law in the city of Kerman, park clean-ups, community holiday events, and several campaigns against underage drinking. As I participated in these extracurricular activities, I was able to take upon a few leadership roles in clubs like the treasurer, Vice President, and public speaker. Due to this, I had become a community activist. The person who can advocate and give a voice to those who are unable to.

I believe if given this financial opportunity it will bring me closer to my future goals. One of them being to use my voice and actions to improve the business world by satisfying the demand of consumers, but not at the cost of workers. Low wages and unsafe working conditions have debilitating effects on not only the workers but their families and the United States as well. My parents worked hard every single day of their lives and still did not have enough to maintain an economically stable household.

They were seeking a better future for their children and after living in Kerman for years, I have noticed that the same problems my parents faced is common in other households in the Central Valley. Taking advantage of the opportunity to go to college not only satisfies my goals but also my parent’s hard work. Seeing the adversity my parents faced taught me to work hard, stand up to injustice and empower those who are silenced to have a voice.

~~Esmeralda Hernandez