As I finished giving my salutatory speech in front of 2,000 people and walked across the stage to receive my diploma, it finally dawned on me: My high school career is done. I will not be returning to the four-story brick building; I won't be waking up at 6 a.m. to catch the school bus; I won't be seeing the same faces every day. In fact, I might never see some of those people again. Up until the very last day of high school, I was still so worried about grades, test scores and finalizing my speech that I didn't really have time to take in the reality of the situation. But now that it's over, I can reflect on my journey and the people and experiences that have got me where I am today.
I always say that deciding to apply for and join Minds Matter was one of the best things I ever did. From the first day of the program, I could tell it would be a life-changing experience, and it was. Through Minds Matter, I received SAT prep, a resource that is not easily accessible in my community, and it helped to significantly improve my score. I also got the opportunity to attend amazing summer programs at Brown and Yale, both of which had a huge impact on me. At Brown, I took a course on neuroscience and psychology that made me realize I do not want to pursue a career in the sciences. At Yale, the Leadership and Entrepreneurship Program introduced me to fields that I would like to explore in college. And because of Minds Matter, I became a writer for The Huffington Post. How many teenagers can say that they wrote a monthly blog for a major online news source?
But the best thing about Minds Matter: the people. I have made lifelong friendships. I got to spend Saturdays with 10 other amazing students who have had similar experiences to me and who have taught me the true meaning of resilience. They have all gone through their own hardships but continue to persevere despite their circumstances. And Minds Matter is full of so many inspirational volunteers who give their time to make sure that the program flourishes and that the students have all the resources they need for academic success, whether they do that through fundraising or by showing up every Saturday. Three of the most important people to me are my mentors, Ari, Crystal and Anne, each of whom has influenced my life differently. They have been amazing role models, and I definitely would not be where I am now without their dedication and willingness to go beyond their role as mentors. I will always remember Ari's constant reminders of why "smart effort" is the best effort whenever I would poorly prioritize my responsibilities. Crystal always had very practical input to every conversation. And Anne, even after she had left us to pursue a graduate degree at Harvard, continued to check up on me. It's nice to know that I will have this Minds Matter network to support me even beyond high school.
I can't forget my amazing family and friends who supported me throughout my entire journey. They were always there to give me words of encouragement and advice, and to remind me that sometimes I needed to take a break and enjoy life. I always knew I wanted to go to an East Coast school so I could experience a completely different lifestyle, even if it meant leaving California's amazing weather. As much as I've wanted to go away to school, the hardest part will be leaving my family and not seeing the people I have seen almost every day for 17 years! But I know they are only a phone call away if (and when) I get homesick. I will definitely miss the traditional Nigerian food my mom makes. The good thing is that there is a Nigerian restaurant near Penn (another reason I love that school!), so that can satisfy my cravings until I'm reunited with my mom's cooking. The majority of my friends are going to school on the West Coast; a very few of are heading east like me. I know I will continue to keep in contact with at least four of my very close friends despite the distance. One of my friends, Kortnee, is attending Howard next fall, and we have already planned some of the trips we're going to take together!
With that, I think I'm ready to embark on another journey. I am excited for the wonderful education I will receive at Penn, the influential people I will meet and the amazing opportunities I will have. This is the dream I have always aspired to, and it is now only weeks away! I know the next four years will be filled with adventure, growth, challenges and self-discovery, and I cannot wait to experience every single part of it!