Monday, October 30, 2006

"Because of"...not "in spite of"

As I volunteered at an Education is Freedom (EIF) event on Saturday, I had yet another opportunity to meet a couple of amazing teenagers. The EIF event was set up to give 9th-12th graders short workshops on how to write college application and scholarship essays. EIF had rallied a number of adult volunteers to be on hand to assist the students with their writing process.

Though we were available for any teenager needing assistance, I connected with two girls who were struggling a little with getting their ideas down on paper. As I prompted them with questions about what they wanted to do in life, I received the response, "I don't know," quite a bit. That answer is pretty common in the areas where I work and can be seen as short-sighted. However, the more I talked to my new friend, the more I realized she actually has her plans pretty well thought out. She just didn't realize how thoughtful she had been about them.

My friend had thought about the Navy, National Guard, and college as the next step for her future. She is looking at the Navy because she felt it would provide more intellectual stimulation than the Army, which she felt was more about physical training. She is looking at the National Guard because it will provide her with college funding, something she recognizes she doesn't have right now (and because of her family's financial struggles, she has no desire to take out loans). Her third, and really last, option is college. She recognizes that college provides choices, yet she is afraid of the cost and hesitant because she thinks she needs to know what she wants to do before she enters college (How/why have we led our kids to believe this?? How many of us knew what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives as a senior in high school?!).

She currently lives on her own, is a senior at a DISD school, and works. I hope she gets past her hesitation of applying to colleges. I think too often we convince kids in poor neighborhoods that they can persevere "in spite of" their past. I think we need to change our way of thinking. This girl, and so many others I know, persevere because of their past, not in spite of it. Many of the kids I know have very strong character, a number of survival skills, and they have learned how to make things work no matter what the situation. We should praise those characteristics! I encouraged my new friend to really consider the three options she had chosen and not limit herself to what other people tell her she "needs" to do because of her income status or because of her indecisiveness about a career right now.

I encouraged her to write her essay, keeping in mind how much she has to offer a college. I hope and pray that as she writes, she thinks about how valuable she is because of her work ethic, her ability to raise herself, her desire to attend high school and even go beyond without goading parents, and the fact that she is taking initiative to make something happen post-high school without family guidance...

Every college, every military department, every job should want her for that.
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