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By John Raftrey And Lori McCormick

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About this blog: We are writing this blog to give practical advice to students and parents, to reflect on issues affecting college admissions, and to provide a platform for a robust community discussion on post-secondary choices. We occasionally f...  (More)

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Never Give Up

Uploaded: Dec 23, 2014
(written by Lori McCormick)

Many students are celebrating their early application acceptances or are deeply saddened by their first rejection. Some even are in limbo: the dreaded deferral. It's like purgatory for college admissions.

I'd like to share a story of one of my most treasured students who never gave up.

Let's just call him Hank.

Hank is a first-generation student who didn't have two pennies to rub together. He and his family endured hardship unfathomable to most of us; even today when I reflect on some of the situations they were placed under, I find it hard to imagine how they survived, let alone managed to thrive. I met Hank the summer before his senior year of high school when I was working at an after-school program for under-represented youths. He was this skinny, quiet kid who approached me with a million questions about college. I remember thinking, "Oh my, I've got my work cut out for me!"

Hank was at the program every day until closing time working with academic tutors, researching colleges, applying for scholarships, and, yes, asking tons of questions. He attended every information session from college representatives, every college tour, and every college prep workshop. Hank was indeed a go-getter. His grades were solid 3.4 GPA, and his test scores were above national average, which is quite impressive for a student who learned English just a few years earlier. Hank had a few AP courses on his transcript, including AP Physics. Although he didn't need AP Physics to graduate, he chose to take the course because he wanted to challenge himself.

During this same semester, in between working tirelessly on his college applications, Hank was also working a graveyard shift as a janitor, all while being homeless. He couch surfed, along with his younger brother, from relative to relative. One night as I left work, I noticed Hank starting to walk home. It was cold and rainy. I offered to drive Hank to his relative's house. I had a leftover banana from my lunch and offered it to him. He ate half and saved the other half for his brother. More than likely that was their dinner that night.

Hank was admitted to a handful of colleges. His top choice was Santa Clara University and, happily, they accepted him. In addition, he was accepted at UC Santa Cruz, plus a few CSU and private campuses. Remarkably, he had earned enough scholarship money to pay for four years of tuition, including room and board. So, on May 1st, he officially accepted Santa Clara University's admission offer and declined the others.

But as I previously mentioned, Hank was homeless and working a graveyard shift to support himself and his brother. Outside of simply surviving, school and college applications were his priority. But life was a constant struggle, and it took its toll on his studies. School was not easy for Hank. He utilized free tutoring through the after-school program and never gave up trying his best, but it wasn't enough. At the year-end, he received a D+ in AP Physics.

His college admissions was rescinded.

Was Hank upset? You bet. I was too! But that didn't stop him. He contacted all of his colleges and appealed, asking for re-consideration. Many people--I, his school principal, and his teachers--wrote letters on his behalf. Even so, every one of the colleges rejected his appeal. Instead of giving up, however, he persevered. He attended community college for two years and then transferred to University of San Diego, a campus he previously had never considered. While at USD, Hank was able to study abroad in Madrid, Spain, something he really wanted to do and could afford, thanks to his scholarship money. Hank graduated last week from the University of San Diego.

Hank never gave up. After his admissions was rescinded, he had limited options. But instead of giving up, crumbling in the face of his bad fortune, he found an alternate route, one which put him on a path that turned out to be better and brighter than his original plan.

Sometimes life doesn't work out the way we intend it to. But if we believe in ourselves and never give up, we can sometimes make a golden opportunity present itself. If it can happen to Hank, it can happen to you.

If you are wondering what happened to Hank's brother, he is following in his footsteps, attending a CSU majoring in International Business. He is very active on campus with clubs and organizations and continues to break barriers.

Local Journalism.
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Posted by concerned, a resident of another community,
on Dec 23, 2014 at 11:06 am

Amazing challenge to overcome such odds. Life isn't fair, but he has proven he can win.

The college process is not fair. This may be the way things are, but I have a very hard to wrapping my mind around it. From GPA, SAT scores, multiple applications,Early acceptance blues to Never give up, this is not the American Dream. An industry has evolved and profited because the challenge is just too much for teenagers to handle.

Most adults, let alone teenagers, have not been presented with this young man's challenges. How are they suppose to acquire the drive that it takes to get into the college? The message of Never Give Up is valid but the system is not.

Posted by Stanford Prof, a resident of College Terrace,
on Dec 23, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Thank you for that inspiring story! I wish Hank the very best. Perhaps local students would also be interested in my experience. When I applied to colleges (many years ago) I was rejected by my top choice (Stanford) as well as my 2nd choice school. I had a near 4.0 average at an academically rigorous HS and high SAT scores but few extracurriculars. (My immigrant parents did not feel these were important, and I instead focused on my studies.) I attended my back-up school (an up-and-coming liberal arts college), and did well. At the end of college, I was accepted at all the graduate schools to which I applied (including Stanford, which I turned down). I now teach at Stanford.

Posted by Marc Vincenti, a resident of Barron Park,
on Dec 26, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Dear Ms. McCormick,

This is a wonderful story of how strength of character can trump bad luck and can surmount disappointment. (Not only Hank's strong character, but yours, and the character of everyone who helped him.)

As often as we can, let's tell our local kids the story of how one's inner resources, supported by the compassion of others, can lead to a life rich in accomplishment.

Rather than believe in their test-score, their transcripts, their performance and achievement as seen by others, our kids can (and must) believe in themselves.

All best in the New Year,

Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)

Posted by MidtownMom, a resident of Midtown,
on Dec 28, 2014 at 7:47 pm

Way to go Hank! There are ways to achieve what you want if you stick to it diligently .. when one door closes, another window opens .. what really tests the metal is the way the student keeps positive attitude and faith.

Wish you and your brother the best in life

Posted by flamingo123, a resident of St. Francis Acres,
on Aug 10, 2016 at 10:31 pm

Pleasure for the immense work you do here. I truly genuinely welcome you. On crisp web journal posting, Your posts are awesome constantly.

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