As a member of a low-income, single-parent, refugee family from Somalia, I beat extraordinary odds to get to college. According to HigherEd.com, less than 50% of low-income students enroll in college after high school. Of those who do attend college, a vast majority drop out before completing their degree.
I saw the reality of these statistics in my hometown of Seattle, where I grew up in the highly diverse and economically depressed Rainier Valley neighborhood. Many of my friends and acquaintances struggled to graduate from high school, let alone college, stymied by poor literacy skills and large gaps in basic academic skills in math and science.
Because of my background, I am passionate about educational equity and social justice issues. For example, the Somali-American community also has virtually no lawyers and I want to change that. I am especially interested in studying and practicing public interest law. I wanted to take a gap year before starting my graduate degree and spend it helping people in my community and making a positive difference. That is why I wanted to serve with City Year. I had the pleasure of serving as a City Year AmeriCorps member in a South Seattle elementary school. That experience was one of the most challenging, rewarding, and invigorating of my life.
Originally, my family was skeptical and didn’t really understand why I would spend an entire year mentoring students instead of going to college. Many felt it would sidetrack me and they feared I might never go to college.
My experience growing up helped me better understand the systematic inequities in our society and I was able to bring that knowledge into classroom and team discussions. While as a City Year corps member, I developed professional skills such as fundraising, event planning, teamwork, and networking.
I know how fortunate I am to be a college student, especially at a school like Stanford, where I am an intended history major planning to go on to law school. I also know I would never have gotten to this place had I not received so much help from teachers and mentors who believed in me and cared about my success. As early as elementary school, I particularly remember Jennifer, a volunteer at my school who helped me catch up in reading when I had fallen behind. I'm glad that I could be a mentor to students just like Jennifer was to me.