02/20/2013 05:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Nurturing the Human Spirit: Balancing Education, Career, and Love of Music

By Ali Rucker, SRA Alumnus, Students Rising Above

One morning before the fifth grade, I stared at my sleeping, drunken father and thought, "I'm going to help my dad by doing better -- by doing the best that I can." It was the first time I realized that if I worked hard, I could help other people. It was also the beginning of my commitment to helping others beat tough odds; a commitment that has become the driving force of my life.

Alcohol and poverty tore my family apart. In the midst of the chaos, my dreams of pursuing an education seemed unrealistic. I didn't know how I would succeed because I had never seen anyone close to me do it. Despite my 4.0+ GPA, numerous extracurricular activities, and an unwavering desire to learn, I agonized over the inferiority I felt when compared to my affluent classmates.

The cycle of self-destruction in my family made being a successful student nearly impossible. By the time I was 16, I decided to officially separate from my family and re-focus on completing my education, despite the challenges I faced in going to college.


Today, I have a degree with honors from Wellesley College, I work as a legal assistant at a public interest law firm called Altshuler Berzon LLP, and I am considering going to law school in the fall of 2014. I never could have achieved this without Students Rising Above (SRA), an organization committed to helping people like me fulfill their education dreams.

Entering College Life

When I got to Wellesley in 2007, I was challenged by the environment of such a prestigious, East Coast, liberal arts school. I had barely traveled outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. Wellesley seemed like a different planet.

When classmates talked about the boarding schools and college preparatory institutions they attended during orientation, I felt severely underprepared. I considered leaving and was plagued by self-doubt. My SRA mentors and adviser assured me that I would thrive at Wellesley as long as I put my mind to it. Throughout college, SRA gave me back the self-confidence I needed to excel at an especially difficult time in any young person's life.

A Sense of Purpose

With SRA's help, I was able to hone my sense of purpose, which has translated into my ability to find interesting and meaningful work. Since that morning in fifth grade, I knew that I wanted to help my family and those in need to rise out of poverty. But how would that translate into a career?

Even though I had a strong passion for social justice, I also nurtured a love for music performance. I had difficulty reconciling the two when thinking of possible jobs I wanted to pursue. I had weathered my adolescence in supportive musical communities and did not want to sacrifice my commitment to music for professional success. I grew more anxious about my career prospects as I neared graduation.

Finding the Balance

SRA helped me find summer internships, prepare for post-graduation jobs with mock interviews, and network with alumni and sponsors from a wide variety of careers. They also helped me secure unbelievable opportunities to study music. SRA's support of my conventional academic and musical study was unwavering.


Thanks to SRA, I was able to study jazz at a music conservatory in Bologna, Italy, while also studying organized crime and criminal justice through the Middlebury Language Schools. I majored in Ethnomusicology at Wellesley, but I also took career-developing courses in Peace and Justice Studies, Africana Studies, and travelled to Jamaica to study the cultural and socioeconomic history of the island.

Entering the Workforce

Without the resources, personal support, and job mentoring that SRA provided, it would have been a struggle to enter the job market. Instead I entered the workplace as a self-aware and clearly directed employee. Now that I am a working professional, I have the leisure time and resources to study music and go to concerts while still working toward a profession that will benefit society.

What Makes SRA Unique

SRA's comprehensive approach to guiding disadvantaged students through their college education and job search allows for far more professional and personal success than other kinds of scholarship programs. SRA combines financial and personal support with professional development in a way that few other organizations can. This makes a noticeable difference in the outlook of the students who finish the program.

Most SRA students that graduate from college don't just attain stable employment in an increasingly competitive job market; we also enter the workforce as socially conscious people who want to help others succeed -- not just in our professions, but in our entire lives. Students Rising Above uniquely nurtures the human spirit of young people who were almost forgotten by society and left behind. Thanks to SRA, I have become a young working professional full of compassion, gratitude, and the desire to give back.

Help SRA Help Others

SRA has helped hundreds of extraordinary young adults, like Ali Rucker, break the cycle of poverty through mentoring, college education, and job training. The more funding and awareness we raise, the more students we can help. Please visit our fundraising page on CrowdRise, and support our efforts to change the lives of hard-working young men and women in our country. Thank you.