[Photo: Amelia Hawkins delivers this speech to a crowd of 700 education and business leaders at NCNSP's Summer Institute on June 26, 2012.]
December 1, 2011, I refreshed my email for the thousandth time that day to realize that my dreams had come to fruition. The word “Congratulations!” jumped off the screen. After reading the same sentence three times, I had to let go of a squeal. I am officially Princeton bound. Other people dream of getting married, having babies, and buying a house. Since I was introduced to the shadowy concept of college, I’ve dreamed of attending, taking part in this one magical thing that will somehow allow me to work my way toward a stable, secure life.
Looking back, I realize I’ve spent a lot of time pushing my way over, around, and through obstacles while working toward my goals. My journey to the Ivy League is not like that of the majority of Harvard or Princeton incoming freshman. I was raised by a single mother with my younger half brother. Until I was six, I thought alcoholism and drug use were the norm. I thought hurtful, abusive relationships were commonplace. I thought life had to be a constant turmoil.
Moving from small town to small town from state to state makes it difficult to form lasting relationships that could have given me a healthier, more positive view of living. I coped by slipping into the worlds opened by popular fiction. Reading about the magical world of Harry Potter or the miserable lives of the Baudelaire orphans put my life on hold for a while. By the time I hit middle school, I discovered an almost feverish passion for academics, maybe because school allowed me to get away from home or maybe because class work was something I could do correctly.
I applied to and entered Caldwell Early College High School as a freshman because I knew I couldn’t pay for college on my own. The early college turned out to be more than just a way to pay for an education. High school was a new ball of wax for me. I was used to and enjoyed the traditional classroom learning style – lectures and tests.
My school uses team-based and project-based learning with a lot of group work and presentations, which was very difficult for an independent worker like me to adjust to. When a new group project was introduced, a small part of my soul died. But I recognized the nontraditional high school classes helped to broaden my learning styles and communication abilities by giving me experiences working with others. My school, Caldwell Early College High School, became a support system. My SCHOOL gave me confidence. MY SCHOOL helped me realize my dreams.
Caldwell Early College has been a blessing for me, helping me understand what college can mean and what it can do for a person. My classes have taught me how to take responsibility for my own education, ask questions when I’m experiencing difficulty, and enjoy learning on an independent, college level.
Three years ago, another move loomed on the horizon. With the financial wolf at the door, my Mom had to relocate….again. Not a move to a nearby county, not even a move within the state. A move that would take us out of North Carolina and away from Lenoir, Caldwell County…..and Caldwell Early College High School. But I had a choice to make. Not wanting to leave my school, I chose to move in with a friend and continue attending Caldwell Early College High School. Though the decision hurt, it was a good one.
My acceptance to Princeton has become one of those defining moments. You know, everything I’ve experienced suddenly falls under BPA (before Princeton admission) or APA (after Princeton admission). I’m no longer the slightly odd, slightly surly girl who always sits in the second row and can’t stop herself from vomiting answers to every question presented by the teacher in class. People suddenly treat me differently, and it’s weird for me, a person who is actually okay with being treated like a number.
Throughout my journey, I discovered that when we lose sight of our dreams, we lose hope. I’ve been depressed. I’ve been wracked with anxiety. I’ve wanted to give up. When I was little, listening to fight after argument after fight, I made preparation lists for the day I would run away. When I was older, I thought about drinking or snorting myself into oblivion.
For one reason or another, I didn’t. I learned what it was like to survive one day, then survive one day, then survive one day, until I reached my goals. The work that you are doing in your schools helps your students reach their own goals.
Watch Amelia deliver her speech at the 2012 Summer Institute on our YouTube channel.