To the editors who chose to run my story:
Thanks for allowing me to respond to some of the debates that stemmed from your posts. I'm honored to know what was written about me in the Houston Chronicle and The Huffington Post inspired some young students from similar backgrounds to reach higher, not to settle for mediocrity, and to get their lives back on track if they had drifted astray as had I.
Many responders reached out to me with applause and well wishes. Yet some reached out with more troubling remarks, denouncing Harvard admissions' staff and categorizing me as an example of affirmative action's wrongs. Some readers apparently took the three sentences or so written in those articles about my past and formed their own versions of my history and my fate.
To clarify details about my life and my story I will attempt to sum up my past, my present, and my aspirations for the future to add context to these discussions.
My parents and grandparents, while from modest means, have always been well respected, church-going and morally upstanding. They tried to instill their values in me when I was young, but I wanted to be tough. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be cool. So when I left my neighborhood to go to Chinquapin, a college prep boarding school for low-income students, I didn't truly appreciate the opportunity. At Chinquapin, I disregarded the school's mission. I never studied, I was rude to classmates and teachers, I was lazy, arrogant and disrespectful and I built a record of untrustworthiness, which resulted in a stern boot out of the door midway through the seventh grade.
After I got kicked out, in addition to losing what seemed my only hope for a brighter future, Chinquapin, I was shunned and ridiculed by some friends and family. I was unwelcome at my grandparents' home temporarily and my parents threatened to commit me to "the system", fed up with my misbehavior. Months later, six of the eight "cool" kids I once looked up to and wanted to imitate, were murdered or imprisoned. I quickly realized that there was nothing "cool" about being the tough guy who didn't value education or relationships with people around him. Had I continued to follow in my acquaintances' footsteps, a grave or a cell, or at the very least, a new home seemed my next steps.
I wanted to change my trajectory, but I wasn't quite sure how to do it. So, as my mom always taught me, I prayed to God, repented for my wrongdoings, and asked for strength and guidance towards a better, brighter future. I promised him that if he gave me a second chance to start over and live better, I would make the most of it.
At my new school the following spring, I started to rebuild my image. Instead of baggy clothing, I wore slacks. Instead of Ebonics, I spoke proper English, and instead of disrupting and being a class clown, I paid attention, took notes, and learned to study. When telling a lie could get me out of trouble, I learned instead to tell the truth, to own up to my faults and suffer the consequences. Slowly but surely, with the help of my pastor, teachers, parents, and mentors, I became a stronger student, and a more honest, responsible, God-fearing young man. I learned my lessons, I owned my mistakes, and I moved on.
At the end of seventh grade, I reapplied to Chinquapin, hopeful that I'd regain access to its safe, nurturing atmosphere but, to my chagrin, my application was rejected. Bill Heinzerling, the school's director, was skeptical that I had genuinely changed much. After all, it had only been six months since my dismissal. I was disappointed, but I was not discouraged. This just meant to me, that I had another year to grow and prove myself worthy of reconsideration.
In eighth grade, I excelled academically, I matured mentally, and, thanks to the help of mentors like my fellow Chinquapin alum, Marcus Johnson, I grew personally and spiritually as well. I applied to Chinquapin a third time, and this time, by God's grace, I was readmitted.
While at Chinquapin, I participated in many of the campus's extracurricular activities, assumed leadership positions, mentored and motivated students on and off campus. Instead of going out on weekends, I used most spare time to study. I started two small businesses- inspired in part by my grandfather who taught me the perks of being my own boss. I studied abroad, thanks to support from family and friends who helped coordinate fundraising events and to donors who contributed generously towards luggage, airfare, and lodging expenses. I interned with two respectable companies, and I built long-lasting friendships with peers and teachers. In a nutshell, I took advantage of every opportunity presented to me and was diligent and persistent in most endeavors. I made the most of my second chance.
Post-graduation, I'm in the process of starting a new business that offers academic and social services geared toward education reform and student empowerment, and I travel to schools and community centers teaching students how to thrive in the midst of adversity. I am eager to experience all that shall come along with my business venture, my speaking opportunities, as well as with my Harvard career. But regardless of where life takes me next, I am committed to helping younger students overcome their own obstacles and achieve their own goals -- through personal philanthropy, motivational speeches, mentorship, and prayer.
I owe the world to my family, friends, mentors, church members, Chinquapin community and others who supported me along the way with their unconditional love and motivation. I'd like to thank the Harvard admissions staff, specifically those who reviewed my application, for believing in my future despite my past. I intend to make you proud and to uphold Harvard's high standards. God has blessed me with yet another second chance, and I intend to make the most of it and serve Him and others as best I can.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," -- Philippians 4:13