Youth Voice Writing Contest 2021 — Finalist, Essay
Inspiration, although difficult to find at first, is never scarce. A painter finds inspiration from nature. A chef finds inspiration from certain scents. Children often find inspiration from stories and fairy tales. As for me, I have always found inspiration in the support systems I have developed. Growing up, there were many times that I felt like I couldn’t control the things that were happening to me, and I had no choice but to roll with the punches. However, once I learned that there were people standing in my corner no matter the circumstance, I became more driven to surpass the conditions thrown at me.
May 1, 2009, was the day I lost both my parents. I can recall the moment so vividly; my brothers and I were at the police station for six exhausting hours of questioning, when an officer held my hand and explained that my mom died, and my dad was in a coma with little chance of waking up. After my mom finalized their divorce papers, my father stabbed her in the back, drove to the parking lot of the mall he loved taking me to and slit his wrists until he lost consciousness. I was just 7 years old, too young to understand why I kept experiencing loss. I was confused, afraid and, most of all, lonely. I didn’t allow myself to grieve or open up because I didn’t want to be a nuisance to anyone else. I hid my thoughts and emotions from others because I couldn’t even understand them myself. I fell into a long period of emotional numbness and isolation.
I lost more than just my parents that day. I lost my innocence, experiencing such a tragedy at a young age. I lost my desire to try, in fear of drawing attention to myself. Above all else, I lost the ability to connect with others. Because of my unique background, I felt separated from other kids and worked to suppress my past. I grew more frustrated, seeing what others had that I didn’t, and gave up on forming friendships.
I placed the utmost importance on strengthening the bond with my brothers because they were all I had left. I knew that out of everyone in the world, they were the ones who understood the most of what I was going through. I distinctly remember the night my mom died, my brothers stayed up with me the whole night and shielded me from the news broadcasts reporting my mother’s death. Simply being in their presence was protective and therapeutic to me. They helped me acclimate to our new lives and taught me that it was OK to feel whatever I was feeling. Even though I wasn’t ready to speak about my emotions, I knew they would be there for me unconditionally.
As we visited the Philippines for both of our parents’ funerals, I got to see the lives they escaped so that I would have better opportunities. After staying there, I decided I couldn’t let their absence prevent me from living my own life, and so, I pursued my education with greater force. The support of my brothers, along with the limited lessons my parents taught me, served as a unique motivator for my progression. From my parents, I learned that knowledge was an important element of my success. I upheld this standard so I could become the educated woman they raised me to be.
With all the turmoil I endured, one thing became certain: education was the key to fulfilling my parents’ and my own dreams for my future. I maintained straight A’s throughout junior high and high school, participated in varsity sports for four years and earned my ticket to the University of Pennsylvania. With the emotional resilience and academic tenacity I gained from my past, I surpassed a 10% acceptance rate to the Ivy League institution and joined the 10% of former foster youth who attend university. I was accepted into the No. 1 nursing school in the world, where I am currently pursuing a nursing major with a double minor in global health and health care management.
This change did not happen overnight. As I have stated, a great deal of my inspiration has come from the support systems I have built. After solidifying my sense of self, I sought resources within my community to enable my own growth. I joined the volleyball team at my high school and made the varsity team as a freshman. With this group of girls, I found a sisterhood of trust and reliability both on and off the court. Spending time with my team made my life feel a bit more normal and taught me how to work effectively with others.
I also became involved with FLOCK at my high school. FLOCK is a nonprofit organization that helps support students at risk of homelessness. Through the relationships I built with members of FLOCK, I found a group of students that came from similar circumstances as me: deceased parents, parents struggling with drug use, unsupportive families. Together, we felt more like a family than the families we went home to. I confided in FLOCK’s mentors and partners, creating a group of people I could lean on for mental, emotional and even financial support. I was awarded a college scholarship from FLOCK as well as a stipend for winter clothes. Since I was moving from California to Pennsylvania, I didn’t have adequate clothing and was worried I wouldn’t be able to afford quality apparel that would keep me warm. Through my involvement with FLOCK, I have been able to network with sponsors and volunteer for fundraising movements within the organization. Through doing so, my support system grew exponentially from my three brothers to a whole community standing behind me.
Additionally, I became involved with the Just in Time foundation, an organization that aims to specifically support former foster youth through college. They pair students with mentors, provide financial support and hold workshops to help students build the skills necessary to navigate through college and beyond. Through my involvement in these organizations, I have fortified my self-confidence and stopped censoring my past, instead recognizing it as a facet of who I am. Many of the mentors come from similar circumstances as the students and have a better understanding of how to help us cope. They have a weekly program where you get paired with a mentor for virtual coffee chats, which I have consistently attended. Being engaged with a community amid the pandemic has helped prevent me from falling back into the pattern of loneliness and isolation I felt before. Through conversing with more members of the former foster youth community, I have created unbreakable bonds and gained a greater perspective on the power in numbers. I never would have thought there would be so many others like me, and I am so grateful to have found a community of strong students who inspire me to continue my own education.
As I continue to pave the path towards my future, I realize I am no longer just one person; I am a member of multiple communities that stand behind me. I am a former foster youth, first-generation, low-income student. I represent everyone from the high school I graduated from, the city I grew up in and the organizations I have become a part of. Finding support from these caring relationships has empowered me to find the confidence to compete at an Ivy League university. In the same way that I find inspiration from these communities, I hope to be an inspiration to others. I hope to become a part of the 3% of former foster youth that graduate college and one day further my education to become an anesthesiologist. Through my enrollment in college, I aspire to become a role model and pillar of faith for my communities to support others through their journeys. I look forward to further challenging the negative stigma of helplessness and disconnection that shrouds foster care.
Inspiration can be a community of support built by generous nonprofit organizations that take a chance on students like me to change the world. If it weren’t for the support systems I have, I would not be the person I am today. I would not have had the confidence or felt capable to attend higher education, let alone at an Ivy League institution. However, being a part of these communities has allowed me to expand my horizons and believe that anything is possible. I now realize that inspiration comes from within. At times where things may feel meek and hopeless, there is always a force that is fighting from inside you that pushes you to surpass your limits. While these organizations have helped me recognize my own inspiration, I now aspire to be a face of inspiration to others.