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Dealing with Personal Issues in High School | #WeBelongInCollege Stories

Last updated June 24, 2020

Some of us have to cope with difficult personal circumstances that make applying to college much more stressful. Hear from students who have had to cope with difficult personal challenges while pursuing their college dreams. 

Embrea’s #WeBelongInCollege Story

Embrea lost her drive to apply to college when she was dealing with emotional challenges at the beginning of her senior year. But when she discovered her passion for veterinary medicine while working on a school project, she realized that she DOES belong in college and found the motivation she needed to get through the college process.

Jefrey’s #WeBelongInCollege Story

When Jeffrey and his family immigrated to the United States, they had to rebuild their lives from scratch. When he started in his new school, he did not speak a word of English. In his story, he talks about the moment when he realized what he needed to do to fight for his dreams.

Luis’s #WeBelongInCollege Story

Luis’ parents’ divorce hit him hard and when he had trouble passing his AP Chemistry class, he started to question if he belonged in college. Soon after, when Luis found a therapeutic outlet, everything changed.

Balwant’s #WeBelongInCollege Story

When her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, Balwant took on the responsibility of taking care of her younger siblings. She found it hard to focus on the college process when all that mattered was her mom’s recovery but her parents encouraged her to continue to pursue her college dreams. 

David’s #WeBelongInCollege Story

Problems at home bleed into problems at school when David couldn’t even get himself to go to class. When he started to fail classes, he questioned whether he belonged in college. Looking back, he is so grateful that he didn’t give up because it turned out that going to college was exactly what he needed.

Nicolette’s #WeBelongInCollege Story

The college process itself can create so much anxiety. When you are the first in your family to apply and you are balancing school, sports, and a job, it can get even more stressful. In her story, Nicolette explains how she coped with all of these.

Catherine’s #WeBelongInCollege Story

Catherine was so focused on caring for her dad during her senior year that she came close to deciding to not apply to college. She realized that the last thing he would ever want was for her to give up on her future - and that no matter what she was dealing with right now, she belongs in college.

Gregory’s #WeBelongInCollege Story

Throughout high school, Gregory found it hard to focus as much as he wants to on sports and academics. This is because of the many family obligations he has. He has always helped care for his four siblings and his family has had to move around quite a bit. To top it off, the college process was one more thing to focus on, but he realized that “just because the process is hard doesn’t mean that you don’t belong.”

Jia's #WeBelongInCollege Story

After her parents divorced, Jia found herself questioning if she belonged in college. But she was inspired by her’s mother’s determination to thrive despite the hardships they faced and decided to continue to reach for her college dreams.

"Hi, my name is Jia and this is my we belong in college story. So, my parents opened a sushi restaurant in Maryland which is where I grew up. It’s a small family restaurant so everyone in my family had to do their job to run the business and my parents borrowed a lot of money to come to the United States, so they were constantly paying others back and in debt.

We didn’t have enough money to hire extra workers so it was mainly me and my younger brother serving in the front of the restaurant, my uncle as the sushi chef, my dad in the kitchen and my mom managing all the financial bills, food inventories, and business transactions. Life was good we were financially stable, there was always food on the table, and I was doing well academically.

But in the summer of my junior year in 2018 my parents divorced. Throughout that time, it was one of the lowest points of my life and I went to a dark place where I felt so alone and had no one to talk to who understood what I was going through. I loved both my mom and dad and the thought of my family separating was heartbreaking. They were fighting all the time, and both threatened to leave our family. They said we would have to sell the restaurant, our home, cars and both parents would go their own ways. It was an uncertain time and it was hard to focus on academics. It was like my life was crashing down around me and I had no control of my future. I lost all motivation and my dreams of finishing high school and going to college seemed distant and unattainable. I started doubting myself and questioning if I deserved to be in college. With everything that’s been happening I didn’t feel like I could make it or was good enough.

My dad ended up leaving for California and my mom took on the responsibility of running the restaurant, doing everything in the kitchen that my dad used to do on top of her other duties and raising three children by herself. There were many times where she would break down crying from all the stress and responsibilities and we held on to each other for support. She emphasized to me the value of education and wanted me to have a better future one where i would have more opportunities. She is the most resilient, hardworking and humble woman I have ever met, and she continues to inspire me to work harder to achieve my dreams. I studied hard in school, went to states for cross country my junior year and got into all the colleges I applied for. All the obstacles I have overcame showed me I deserve to be in college and that it’s not just a dream anymore because I am going to a college in the fall. I want the people listening to my story to know that your doubts and hardships are not going to hold you back. You can achieve your dreams and you belong in college. WE belong in college."

Michelle's #WeBelongInCollege Story

I always thought that college wasn’t going to be for me. I was so certain that since my academics in high school weren’t the best, I would fail at college. I figured, “why even try?” I was making decisions about my future out of fear, self-doubt, and insecurity. Even though I knew my failures in high school were due to my emotional state, I could not be sure that I wouldn't face the same emotional challenges in college. I didn’t have the motivation to even try.

To give you the back story, in high school, my father was suffering from kidney failure. He was on dialysis, constantly in and out of the hospital, and doing everything he could to fight for his life. He even flat-lined a couple of times, and they were fortunately able to resuscitate him. He was my best friend, and the thought of losing him shook my world. Alongside him being sick, I was being severely bullied at school. My school and home life were not conducive to academic success. I became more concerned with surviving than getting good grades. I was in such a dark place that I felt I wouldn’t make it past the age of 18, let alone enter college and get a degree.

If it wasn’t for my mother constantly encouraging me and telling me that she knew I was capable, I would’ve just found an alternative life path. However, I applied for a community college and got accepted. My mom told me to take baby steps, to give the best I could given my emotional state. She wasn't hard on me, she was understanding, and knew that in time I would develop confidence in my abilities.

When I initially started at the community college, I was still working through my inner demons and wasn't performing my best. I didn't know myself; I just knew my pain. I let my pain define me. Community college allowed me to find myself and explore what I did and didn’t like. I had a total of 5 major changes before I landed upon teaching. I found out I had a passion to help children. The moment I found my passion, my grades even started improving, I applied myself more, and my life changed.

I went from a student who had to retake basic courses to a student that got straight A’s and was constantly on the Dean’s list. For anyone who may find themselves in a situation where they feel they are incapable of succeeding at college, or that they don’t even know themselves because they have endured a life of difficult circumstances. I recommend going to community college first. It allows you the opportunity to find yourself, build yourself up, and learn all the things you probably didn’t in high school. From community college, I worked my way to the university. It felt like I had a world of opportunity at my hands!

Once I was at university, my passions only grew! I pursued my dream to work with kids, got experience in the field, maintained a high academic standing, got into 3 honor societies, and graduated Magna Cum Laude. I never in a million years thought I would get this far, especially knowing that I had no aspirations when I initially entered college.

I used to only live to SURVIVE, and college makes me feel like I’m LIVING. I’m not just existing, I’m growing, progressing, and changing. College gives me the knowledge to be able to make a difference. That is why I pursued graduate school. Even if you feel you can't succeed, even if you feel you have the world against you, it is important to know YOU CAN DO IT. I fortuitously had my mother's profound faith in me that pushed me to make the best decision of my life. I'm now addicted to learning and always find myself going back to college to learn more. Your story does not define you. We are all capable of success, it just takes persistence. WE BELONG IN COLLEGE! 

Sean’s #WeBelongInCollege Story

Sean started to question if he belonged in college after his father died. He just couldn’t see the point of packing for college without his father. It has been tough, but he has found a way to continue to strive for the life that his father always wanted for him. As he puts it, I can’t “stop short on the finish line just because the race didn’t happen the way I wanted it to.”

"The Class of 2020 is experiencing a crisis. I get texts from friends telling me they are sick of social isolation or online classes. They complain of getting no after-prom parties or chances to walk across the stage for a diploma. My social media is plagued by threats of dropping out of college due to online classes, or captions like ‘I feel robbed of my senior year,’ or ‘this virus ruined my life.’

When I was thirteen years old, I thought my father’s death from lung cancer had ruined my life. I was sent to live with an aunt and uncle I’d only visited two to three times a year. I went to school with strangers and went to church with strangers. My father was the only family member who’d seen me walk to the bus stop each day. His passing left a smoking bullet hole in my heart. Even now, when I try to think of my future, my wound aches a little more, reminding me of its presence. I felt my father’s death was the irreversible curveball that had shattered the windows of my friendships, my connections, my education and my sense of normalcy. On the horizon, I couldn’t see the end of eighth grade without my father. I couldn’t see the point of one day walking the stage or packing for college without him. I almost didn’t see the point of attending college at all.

But I am standing here today, committed to my dream school and a career I’m eager to begin learning about. Yes, I stand here robbed of a father and robbed of the community I’d grown up with for nearly eight years of my childhood. Yes, I stand here robbed of my last two months of high school and robbed of a prom and robbed of a graduation. Yes, I stand here robbed of the traditional life that any high school senior would’ve dream of.

But I decided long ago that I wouldn’t stop short of the finish line just because the race didn’t happen the way I wanted it to. I have scaled too many walls just to slow down. I have jumped too many ditches just to collapse in the dirt. I have walked too little in this incomplete puzzle of a life to give up on my father, or the life he wanted for me--a life where I am healthy and educated.

My name is Sean Callahan and I belong in college."

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