Skip to main content

Tag Archive for: College

The Girl That Lived Her Life with Two Personalities

Angie Pleitez is a student at Santaluces Community High School in Palm Beach County, Florida, and a member of the Take Stock in Children/Johnson Scholars Program. Below are excerpts of an article she wrote as part of the program. 

Hello. My name is Angie Pleitez and I would like to share my story, the story that made me realize to always be grateful for everything that happens to you, whether it’s good or bad. Ever since I was little, I was depicted as the person in my family that could be different from the rest. My parents always reassured me that I was going to be the one in the family to make a difference and rise to the top. They always told me that I had the opportunity that no one else in my family had, which was to get a full education and be someone important in the world. I am the daughter of two immigrant parents who risked everything to give a better future for their child. That’s a huge amount of pressure to put on someone, but I didn’t think much of it when I was younger. I just thought of myself as just another child that played outside and hung out with her friends. What I didn’t know when I was younger was all the actions happening behind the scenes.

To start, when I was little, I had to stay with a babysitter most of the time because my mother worked from the morning to the night and my father would work from the morning to past midnight. Sometimes they would barely get sleep because when they came home, they still had to take care of me. From the time and effort they put in their laborious jobs, they were able to afford my school supplies, my backpack, after-school care, all necessary components for me to have the best school experience. They always praised me for getting good grades, which gave me boosts in my confidence and self-esteem. I was on the honor roll and earned recognition for my intelligence. I was always very proud of my intelligence and perseverance at such an early age. It continued this way all the way up to 5th grade. It was getting to that point where my life was going to take a sharp turn, which was my teen years.

I was scared that I was taking a huge step in my life. I’ve never liked change ever since I moved away from where I grew up when I was 7. I didn’t want to accept the fact that I was going to be in a different environment and going to be experiencing something I’ve never experienced before. My parents tried to reassure me that everything was going to be okay; that it’s just another phase of my life that everyone goes through as well, but I already had the idea instilled in me that things would go downhill from here. My middle school years destroyed not only my academic achievements but my self-worth. I was at my lowest point, and I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone. I was especially hesitant to tell my parents because I didn’t want them to know their “star child” wasn’t shining as bright as before. As time passed by, I could feel that I was slowly starting to lose myself. I felt unhappy and unmotivated all the time, and I didn’t care for most things anymore. I felt numb and I felt like I wasn’t living a life anymore – at least, not the life I wanted to lead. I was willing to do anything to take the pain away which would have led to life-threatening consequences. I’m glad that I stuck around because I later on realized that the pain doesn’t last forever and that things get better, maybe not right away but they eventually do. This is when I found the Take Stock in Children/Johnson Scholars Program.

The program opened my eyes to see that I still had an opportunity to turn myself around. It felt like this program could be my chance of getting out of this dark place I was heading into. I found it as I was entering high school, and I can honestly say that it turned my life around for the better. I felt myself getting my academic achievements back and the joy of feeling proud of myself back. I felt like I had a purpose again, a purpose to keep going and continue to always do better than the day before. I started doing better in school and got recognized for all the great things I was doing. I felt my parents grow happier and their pride for me grew. I talk to them about my future and college and they can’t help but be so overwhelmed with happiness. Yes, there are many obstacles that try to knock me down to the position I was in before, but I grew out of that point in my life and I don’t ever want to go back. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, no matter the circumstances my family and I go through.

The Take Stock/Johnson Scholars Program, my family, and the friends who actually want the best for me have helped me realize that life is worth so much. I can create a great future for myself if I want to. I can go to a great college if I want to. I have a chance that not many people have, and that means so much to me.

Angie Pleitez is a Junior at Santaluces Community High School

Forever Grateful for My Support System – Family, Friends, and Johnson Take Stock

The following is an essay from a student in the Johnson Take Stock Program. She shares her story and path to college as 2020 comes to a close.

First of all, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Shelly, and I will hopefully be the first to go to college in the United States in my family because they did their education in Cuba. I came when I was 7 years old, and at that time I was in second grade. Then I went to middle school and now I am a junior at Forest Hill High School. I have many colleges that I would love to go to, such as UM, UCF, FIU, and many more. I would love to go to a college near home so I could see my grandparents as much as possible. My goal is to make myself and them proud of everything I hope to achieve.

Additionally, going to college would mean so much to me and my family. I have always worked hard and tried my best in school by always doing well in my classes and being involved in school activities. Getting a good education is the best opportunity ever given to me. I can use this to have a good career that I enjoy and that will never make me stress about not having enough money to pay the bills. Growing up in a not the wealthiest family brings many life lessons that open your eyes and encourage you to take your education seriously so that you don’t have to go through the same thing your family did since you were given a better chance. This is why going to college would mean so much to me. I will have a stable future that I hope will allow me to give back to those who gave to me. These life challenges and many others help me shape my values and open my eyes to appreciate everything I have around me because not everyone has the same opportunity or conditions.

Furthermore, my goal is to find as much financial help to pay for college, so that neither my family nor I will need to stress about paying for my education, and that’s why I am so grateful to be part of the Johnson Take Stock family. They have supported me in many ways. I am grateful for all the activities, workshops, community service opportunities, events, etc. that Johnson Take Stock lets me be a part of. They always teach me something new, and I enjoy going to them since I have a fun time. I joined Johnson Take Stock back in my freshman year, and I have met so many kind people who just want to genuinely help you. Thanks to Johnson Take Stock, I know that if I keep following my side of the contract they will help me pay for my first years of college, and this is the biggest support I could ever receive from them. My other support systems are my family and friends. They help me make decisions, and this is a big help because I am so indecisive. They motivate me to keep working hard because it is all worth it at the end of the day. They also support me by congratulating my achievements which makes me feel good. Another support system I have are my teachers and guidance counselors because I know they are there for me if I ever need to talk to someone, and they just want the best for their students.

In conclusion, going to college would mean a lot to me and my family, and that is why I will always keep working hard to reach my goals. I am forever grateful for my support systems which are my family, friends, Johnson Take Stock family, and the staff at my school. All of the challenges I face will always just make me stronger so I am grateful for those, as well.

Shelly Cruz is a junior at Forest Hill High School. She has been a participant in the Johnson Take Stock  Program since her freshman year in high school.



JSF Awards Grant for Dual Enrollment Program

Landmark College, which enrolls neurodiverse students who learn differently (LD; including dyslexia, ADHD, autism, or executive function challenges), has been awarded a $1 million grant from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. The five-year matching grant supports the college’s efforts to sustain and expand its online dual enrollment courses, which offer neurodivergent students uniquely engineered college courses as they prepare for the transition to higher education, and to create other college-level online programs which similarly help students during the important, often challenging high school, gap year, and year one of college periods.

“We are pleased that the Johnson Scholarship Foundation sees the value in supporting our online programs, which started in earnest nearly a decade ago, and which are particularly needed now,” said Landmark College President Dr. Peter Eden, who wrote the grant application. “These funds will allow the College to not only strengthen and grow our online programming, they also will provide scholarship support for many students heretofore underserved by traditional courses or programs, and unable to afford tuition costs.”

Landmark’s online offerings adapt the unrivaled model of comprehensive support that has made its undergraduate program on the Putney, Vermont, campus successful over the past 35 years, and integrate intentional pedagogical elements within each online course which lead to student success.

Johnson Scholarship Foundation Chief Executive Officer Robert A. Krause says the Landmark College online offerings are great examples of programs that fulfill the Foundation’s mission to serve disadvantaged people by assisting them to obtain education and employment.

“We are pleased to support this dual enrollment program at Landmark College,” Krause said.  “We believe the program will serve as the foundation for a successful higher education experience for young people with learning differences, and it will lead them to greater opportunities in education and employment.”

For more information about the Landmark College Online Programs, visit

Start Planning for College the Day You Start High School

Going through the college admissions process is as much an opportunity to learn about yourself as it is a journey to define and pursue your future college and career goals. Path to College aims to demystify this competitive and sometimes overwhelming process by providing in-depth and comprehensive expert advice to students across our county regardless of economic background. As a partner of Achieve Palm Beach County along with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, we are committed to increasing the rate of students preparing for, enrolling in, and persisting through degree credentialing programs. With that shared mission in mind, we are happy to share a few quick tips to help you manage your career and college search.

9th Grade — Take a Career Aptitude test through a free account at My Career Shines. Next, explore the suggested careers through volunteer and enrichment opportunities. Consider how you can plan your course load to prepare for this career path. Look for academically rigorous courses. Challenging electives like journalism, debate, or high-tech computer classes are a great way to round out your transcript. Talk often and excitedly about your goals or ideas for your future. Look for opportunities and feedback. Expert tip: The Admissions committee loves to see more than two years of a foreign language on your transcript. Science courses are the number one reason students do not graduate on time. Make sure to get your required science classes completed as soon as possible. Do not put them off and plan on taking two at once!

10th Grade — Seek advanced coursework and volunteer opportunities that match your career interests. Take your PERT test and try to dual enroll over your summer break. Otherwise, try to find a job, internship, or volunteer opportunity that will help you gain skills for the workforce.

11th Grade — Complete a virtual tour or on-campus tour. Research the colleges you are interested in at College Navigator. Study for your SAT or ACT regularly, aiming to put in at least one to two hours a week. There are free online preparation resources through Khan Academy or ACT Academy Aim to revise your personal statement (College application essay) three to five times over summer. Get a second reader, and make sure to follow the instructors.

12th Grade — Choose three teachers to ask for a recommendation letter. Give them between two to four weeks to prepare. Ask them, “Can you write me a STRONG recommendation letter?” In October, fill out your FAFSA. Apply to your dream school during early admission in November. Set a goal to apply to one college every other week and stick to it. Use the Common App to help manage the process. Apply to scholarships between October and March and shoot for one a week. Use your personal statement as a starting template and rework for each scholarship you apply for.

Additional resources for students and parents are available on the Achieve Palm Beach County website at

Christine Sylvain is the Founder and Executive Director of the Path to College Fellowship, whose mission is to secure the acceptance of as many high-achieving, low-income students into top-tier universities as possible.

6 Questions All Transfer Students Should Ask

Read more at SUNY Ulster’s blog at

As college students pursuing forms of higher education, question-asking really becomes a learned art. After all, in order to make informed decisions regarding our future as academics, we need to understand the options available to us. So, here are six questions all students looking for their dream transfer school should ask:

What credits will transfer?

This is SO important. Every college is different, as are their requirements for degree completion. This means that while most or all of your courses may transfer at one institution, you might have a lot of catching up to do at another. Make sure you know just how many credits will transfer before you make a final decision.

Is there a different application period?

It can be confusing navigating other college websites, but many dedicate an entire section to transfer students. If they do, this section is where you should find all of the information you’ll need in regards to applying. Since the application process can be different for transfer students as opposed to first-year applicants, you will want to make sure you are applying by the correct deadline.

What opportunities are there for me to get involved?

As mentioned in a previous blog post, campus involvement is such an important part of making the most of your college experience. One of the best things you can do when seeking to transfer is to ask what opportunities for involvement are available to you — especially in your specific field of study! Ask about clubs, internships and other programs the college might offer and take advantage of the results.

What about specific scholarships?

Nobody wants to graduate with a mess of student loans to take care of, but since the average transfer school is more expensive than community college, student loans are a very real possibility. Scholarships are a great way to help eliminate that debt. And oftentimes, institutions offer specific scholarships for their transfer students. These are definitely worth looking into!

What is the rate of student success?

Some schools have a better success rate for transfer students than others. This has to do with the programs they offer, as well as how easy it is for transfer students to acclimate in their new environment. Some colleges focus a lot of time, attention and energy towards their transfers. Others leave their transfer students to wade through the muddle of information all by themselves. Finding a school where you will be valued will greatly improve your personal chance at success.

Can I talk to your students?

Though the previous five questions are mainly designed to be asked of admissions counselors, never forget the students! They are your gateway to developing a thorough and precise list of the pros and cons of your dream transfer school. Students are never shy to give you their honest opinion about classes, professors, activities, inclusion — even the affordability of cafeteria prices. Definitely take advantage of this insider-look!

Ariana Stadtlander is an alumna of SUNY Ulster now pursuing a career as a freelance writer, editor and blogger.

Supporting First-Generation Students

What are some ways in which institutions can support first-generation college students? The following podcast, courtesy of the University of Florida’s Office of Faculty Development and Teaching Excellence, features insights from first-generation University of Florida student Adrian Cruz and Dr. Leslie Pendleton, director of the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation was an early supporter of this nationally recognized program.

Dr. Leslie Pendleton is the Senior Director of Retention and Success Initiatives in the Division of Student Affairs at the University of Florida. Within this role, she serves as Director of the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program and supervises the Disability Resource Center.

Adrian Cruz is a first-generation student at the University of Florida and a Machen Scholar.

What We Have Learned About Preparing Transfer Students

The following post is based on a soon to be published chapter in Building Transfer Student Pathways for College and Career Success, Joseph & Poisel, (Editors), National Resource Center for The First Year Experience & Students in Transition.

Woman writing and holding a laptop

In the last twenty-five plus years, we have had the opportunity to work intentionally on designing transfer pathways for students who start at a community college and complete a bachelor’s degree at a university. While most community colleges were founded with this “transfer mission,” educators have long known that the transfer student experience is not particularly linear or smooth. Recent research has shown that nationally, 29 percent of entering community college “transfer” students earned a certificate or associates degree and 42 percent complete a bachelor’s degree in six years (Jenkins & Fink, 2016). The issues include universities not accepting all of the credits earned at the community college; students not completing the correct pre-requisite courses for their intended university major; students changing their university major once they enroll there; and what is commonly called “transfer shock” such as adjusting to larger classes and classrooms, different faculty expectations, academic technology, increased academic program rigor, and complex university procedures.

Three students at Valencia CollegeIn the last 10 years, there has been an increased focus among community colleges to be more intentional in getting students on a “pathway” that reduces course choice by clarifying exactly what courses students need to complete each term in order to prepare for a specific university major (Completion by Design, 2011; Complete College America, 2018; Guided Pathways, 2015).  Most educators who delve into transfer pathways gain a quick understanding of why the choices are confusing to students, particularly community college students, who are more likely to be first-generation college students and have to negotiate their way through not just one, but two institutions. Sorting out common prerequisites, program prerequisites, electives that are “recommended” or true “electives” from the descriptions in college catalogs is a lesson in the real complexity of academic programs. Pathways programs are designed to simplify student choices, making the path from the associate’s degree to the bachelor’s degree more transparent. Pathways assist students and advisors with clarifying the coursework to take at the community college so that the courses both transfer and apply to the specific bachelor’s degree the student aspires to complete at the university.

Woman writing on a pad of paperPathways are an important means to improve student transfer success, but the curricular clarity that defines many pathways programs is not all that is necessary to prepare students to be transfer-ready. There are additional factors that should be considered by transfer students, and community college and university educators who are working to prepare students, for a successful transition and completion of their bachelor’s degrees.

  • Personal aspirations – “People like me can …” Our view of the world is shaped by what we see the people from “our kind of background” doing. In order to consider additional options, students need to believe that people from a background like theirs can be successful, belong, and are welcomed into higher education in general, and in whatever aspirational profession they are considering (e.g., engineer, doctor, teacher, nurse, scientist, computer programmer). There are many examples of people who have reached aspirations well beyond their beginnings, but psychologically it has to begin with an individual’s belief that it is possible.
  • Purpose – Students need to clarify their personal direction and goals, and tie their career goals to a set of educational programs that can move them in that direction, even as those goals emerge and change over time.
  • Curricular plan – Students complete course prerequisites for specific bachelor’s programs with few excess credits so that all (or most) lower-division coursework satisfies the requirements for the bachelor’s degree and permits direct entry into upper-division (junior level) course work.
  • Academic preparation – Students demonstrate the ability to achieve in the specific academic discipline they are pursuing, including the ability to demonstrate academic rigor, knowing how to persist when the academic work is challenging, knowing how to engage faculty for productive assistance, and knowing the expectations for learning (learning how to learn) in the specific academic discipline.
  • Career preparation – Students understand the expectations for professional behavior in the career field for which they are preparing. This may include learning through undergraduate research, internships, and academic mentors. It includes gaining an understanding of what is involved in the day-to-day life of the chosen profession and committing to the life that it entails.
  • Social preparation – Students understand and adopt behavioral expectations for success at the university. This includes physical and behavioral navigation, an emphasis on independence, the ability to self-advocate, and the ability to plan financially as well as career and academically for degree completion.

The implications for students, community colleges and universities include a concerted focus on career and academic planning, as well as other forms of student preparation and development. We believe this comprehensive approach to transfer student programs and development will prepare more students to complete the bachelor’s degree and achieve their dreams.

Two women sitting at a desk with Valencia sign in backgroundThe Johnson Scholars program, which began at Valencia College and the University of Central Florida (UCF) in 2013, was designed to provide comprehensive support for community college students preparing to transfer. Valencia identifies scholarship recipients based on their academic interest in biomedical sciences, which has a specific degree path from Valencia to the UCF, both located at Valencia’s Osceola Campus. The scholarship creates a cohort of students with similar interests who support each other with the assistance of an assigned advisor. Faculty in the pre-requisite courses support students in learning what is needed to prepare for rigorous university study, including opportunities for undergraduate research.  The scholarship continues when students transfer to the university.  Valencia College and the University of Central Florida recognize the achievement of Johnson Scholars who have been successful in transfer, as well as associate and bachelor’s degree completion.

Dr. Joyce C. Romano is Vice President for Educational Partnerships at Valencia College through which she works to improve the educational pathway for students from K-12 through community college and successful university transfer to bachelor’s completion. Dr. Romano has a B.A. in Psychology from State University of New York-College at Cortland, an M.S. in Counseling Psychology from Central Washington University, and an Ed.D. in Higher Education from the University of Kansas.

Maria Hesse serves as Vice Provost for Academic Partnerships at Arizona State University, helping to create and sustain productive relationships with community colleges and other institutions. Prior to coming to ASU in July 2009, Dr. Hesse served as President and CEO for Chandler-Gilbert Community College (CGCC), one of the Maricopa Community Colleges in the Phoenix area. Dr. Hesse holds Master of Business Administration and Bachelor of Science degrees from Arizona State University. She has Master and Doctoral degrees in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University and is a graduate of the Harvard Institute for Educational Management.

Five College Success Takeaways from the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock Senior Summit

On a recent Thursday morning, more than 100 recent high school graduates sacrificed a morning of their hard-earned summer vacation to equip themselves for the next step — college.

JS-TSIC Senior Summit 2018

Held on the campus of Palm Beach State College, this year’s Senior Summit — a half-day boot camp of sorts — was nothing new for these students. All of them had spent the past four years in a college readiness program supported by the School District of Palm Beach County, Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. All have been accepted to a college or university. A few of them already have college credits or even associate’s degrees they earned through dual enrollment while still in high school.

But even though these students will continue to receive support services from the program while they are at college, they soon learned there are several steps they need to take on their own to be successful.  Here are five of our favorites.

Students in a group exercise

Get involved. During an icebreaker exercise, the students were challenged to get out of their comfort zone and meet people by trying out elaborate (and frequently silly) handshake techniques. The point? The best way to make the most of your college experience is to study hard but also make an effort to reach out to other students. As Resource Teacher Gbolade George put it, “you won’t meet new friends sitting in your dorm room.”

Success is no secret. The primary non-secret that Mr. George addressed was that students need to have a vision. “If you don’t know where you are going, you’re never going to get there.” Students were encouraged to dream big, set goals and then take action. The second non-secret is that success takes hard work and students have the choice of working at their education or not. Mr. George stressed the need for work by noting that “if you don’t pay the price for success [work], you will pay the price for failure.” He encouraged the students to value their time and use it wisely.

Take Stock college success guide logo

Money management is important. The day’s activities included a crash course in budgeting and the different types of financial aid. Take Stock in Children Director of Program Services Marilyn Schiavo encouraged students to look for grants instead of loans, and to be aware that many types of aid require them to keep their grades above a C average. They also received a budget template as part of their College Success Guide to help them keep track of expenses.

Take care of your mental health. In a session titled “Get Your Mind Right,” Jeannie Hoban, a Palm Beach State College counselor and faculty member, talked about why mental health is important and why it matters in college. She encouraged students to find out what resources are available on their campus and to take advantage of them. The most common types of mental illness are anxiety and depression, and people often have co-occurring illnesses, she said. For students who suffer from test anxiety, she said deep breaths are the quickest way students can calm themselves down.

Two students in a group exercise

Know what to expect. Take Stock College Retention Specialists Irijah Kanoyton and Ruth Ann Dean introduced the students to the Kuder Career Interests Assessment program. Using individual computers, every student was able to complete a survey that produced not only what career areas are of most interest to each student, but what actual jobs there are in those areas, what those jobs are currently paying, and what college courses need to be taken to prepare for those jobs. They stressed the value of knowing what you want and planning appropriately, as well as the value of really working with guidance counselors and advisors to get on track and stay on track.

Lady Hereford is a program specialist with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. She has spent significant time working in journalism and public relations, and she assists the Foundation’s communications efforts as it expands its impact across sectors. More information about the Johnson Scholarship Foundation can be found at

How the Johnson Scholars Program Changed My Life

The following is an essay written by a graduating senior in the Johnson Scholars Program, a college readiness program that is a partnership between the School District of Palm Beach County, Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. We will feature other student authors in the coming weeks.

The thought of entering high school petrified me; thousands of thoughts raced through my mind which caused my heart rate to escalate. With no one to turn to for guidance, I felt deeply lost and had no clue what to expect. All due to the fact that, neither of my parents had the opportunity to finish college. I viewed being the first generation as some type of tormenting curse. My dad was my only hope after my mom passed away. Sadly he had very little time for me because he was always working two jobs to keep our family stable. I was unaware of all the vast amount of opportunities out there and thought I had to figure out this high school and college process on my own. One day a magnificent opportunity crossed my path.

Johnson Scholars Santaluces portfolio bindersI applied to the Johnson Scholars program and was accepted. Johnson Scholars has truly changed my life in a beneficial way. I will be a first-generation high school graduate in my family to attend college. The Johnson Scholars Program has provided me with a free portfolio to keep all the information and worksheets given to me. I thought the portfolio was just a waste of time and space, but it has truly incrementally improved my organization skills throughout these past four years. Additionally, during each after-school and lunch meeting the Johnson Scholars staff has always provided me with encouraging pieces of advice and helpful handouts from how to remain debt free to valuable interview tips. All these factors are how the Johnson Scholars Program has equipped me to be college ready.

Johnson Scholars logoThe moment I became a member of this program they have cared for my academics as much as I do and want nothing but the best for my future. I have been exposed to a surplus of opportunities because of the Johnson Scholars Program. The splendid opportunities they offer include ACT/SAT prep workshops, financial aid workshops, free college tours, and much more. If one were to run out of school fee waivers for taking the ACT/SAT, they pay for the test because they want to see individuals succeed. In addition, the staff always checks up on how I am doing in my classes and provide me with help if needed. The inspirational after-school activities have opened up my eyes, allowing me to become a better version of myself. There is no possible excuse for why I should not be college ready after being a part of this great influential program.

Being a part of the Johnson Scholars Program is not just about the scholarship money to me. It is about how my mindset has changed drastically from the beginning of my freshman year to now. All the techniques and resources they have revealed to me have all played a major part in equipping me to be college ready. I have taken every part of it into consideration and will continue to do so in the future. I am more optimistic and confident in myself, a future in college, and most importantly my family legacy.  

Maniuka Valliere is a senior at Santaluces Community High School in suburban Lantana, Florida. She is a student in the Johnson Scholars Program, and she plans to major in biomedical sciences in college. Her career goal is to become a pediatrician.

From Surviving to Thriving

The following is an excerpt from an essay on leadership written by a student in the Johnson Scholars Program, a college readiness program that is a partnership between the School District of Palm Beach County, Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. His essay offers insights into the struggles many high school students are facing today. We will feature other student authors in the coming weeks.

On March 8, 2000, at approximately 3:30 p.m. the world welcomed a baby boy named Sharad Vashawn Jones. Little did my family know, I would unfortunately contract pneumonia shortly after. With the proper treatment and care I needed, I pulled through and survived. For the rest of my life, survival would be my best friend.

EKG print outAt 2 years of age I, for the second time, came down with pneumonia. Only this time I had to be admitted to the hospital for a week. A couple of years later I would be diagnosed with asthma, something that ran in my family. One year around Mother’s Day, my lungs decided to suffer an asthma attack. Sitting at the dining table hooked to a nebulizer, I was lucky to have caught it early and was able to notify my parents before it spiraled out of control. Succumbing to an asthma attack brings on immediate feeling of a pressure so immense that catching my breath was almost impossible. That event left me stranded in the moment and it felt as though no one could help me. Survival is a virtue I know much too well.

Time flies by and in the blink of an eye high school is welcomed with beckoning arms. With high school came many things like prom, applying for colleges, and for me, coming to terms with my sexuality. I knew I couldn’t hide it forever. After three years, with the help of some loving confidants, I was able to share the truth with my parents who, even after hearing what had been burdening me for so long, loved me just the same. Facing those in high school was much tougher, though. The rumors spread like a wildfire across the school and the mumbling in the halls seemed to get louder every day. Slowly but surely, the truth came out and although I had lots of support, there were still those who weren’t as open minded. Through the name calling and disrespect, however, I could see a glimmer of light telling me not to give up.

closeup of a book, pencil and pad of paperThough there were many times I wanted to bury my head and surrender, I knew there was more for me in life. All odds were against me but I kept my head up and prospered throughout high school and ended up a full time dual enrolled college student at age 17. This was unheard of in my family and sparked something in me that gave me hope. I see the brewing potential in my younger siblings and them looking up to me and admiring me as their role model and it is an indescribable feeling. I not only survived but thrived in the face of doubt, and I know now that nothing will ever be able to hold me back from my true potential.

Leadership to me is not a characteristic but a lifestyle. It means being comfortable enough with yourself to not only lead you but to lead others as well. It means knowing when to put others’ needs before yours but not neglecting yourself in the process. Leadership is making sacrifices to benefit the greater good at all times. It’s integrity, loyalty, trustworthiness, and most importantly it’s honesty. It’s not about what you do when everyone is looking, it’s what you do when no one is looking. Leadership is something I always had growing up but never knew the name for it. Once I was old enough to realize that I had the power to influence people and persuade them to do the right thing, I knew that all my struggles happened for a reason and that there was a plan for me. This is only the beginning of my journey and the world better make way.

Sharad V. Jones is a senior at Lake Worth Community High School in Lake Worth, Florida. Through dual enrollment, he will finish high school with not only a diploma but also an associate’s degree. He plans to transfer to a state university and major in biology or forensics.