What is Your Story?

Each of us has a story. My story began in Pike County Alabama, where I was given up for adoption before I was six months old. Too young at the time of my adoption, I have no memories of my biological parents or siblings. I was raised by a loving family in Chicago, Illinois where I attended Chicago Public Schools. My mother and father were from Memphis, Tennessee. My father left school at the end of the 8th grade and hopped a freight train to Chicago in search of work. Eventually, he became a truck driver and drove 18-wheelers for the U.S. Postal Service. My mother dropped out of school at the end of the tenth grade and also went to Chicago looking for work where she became a seamstress.

Growing up in poverty, I struggled academically throughout elementary and middle school and was eventually expelled from De La Salle Catholic High School in the tenth grade. However, I went on to graduate from Du Sable High School as the first in my family to graduate from high school. When I graduated with honors from Northeastern University, I became the first in my family to graduate from college. My Story is actually contained in my autobiography, Follow Your Dreams: Lessons That I Learned in School.”

The ‘My Story’ essay an autobiographical essay in which you provide insight into and a context for understanding your life. The sample essays provided were developed by students in response to such questions as:

  • Where are my parents from?
  • Where was I born and where have I grown up?
  • How would I describe my family and what are their hopes and aspirations?
  • What are my gifts, talents, and passions?

For high school seniors, the ‘My Story’ essay may become the foundation for their college essay. For middle school students and high school students in grades 9 – 11, the ‘My Story’ essay is an opportunity to provide insight into your story .

Follow the steps to set up your narrative document. Read the sample essays (see below) to guide your thinking.

Step 1: Click here to log into an existing Google account or to establish an account.

Step 2: Click here to create a copy of the My Narratives document. 

  • Select the ‘File’ menu on the top left of the document.
  • Select ‘Make a copy’ from the File Menu.
  • Replace ‘Copy of Your Name’ in the name of the document with your first and last name (properly capitalized).
  • Select ‘SHARE’ to confirm that the document has been shared to cpc@collegeplanningcohort.com. You may also add the email address of your parent, mentor, or college advisor.

Sample ‘My Story’ Essays

I Was Reading on a Second-grade Reading Level in the Fifth Grade

Damian grew up in family of ten and is the first in his family to go to college immediately following high school. His high school is located in the infamous, “Corridor of Shame,” an area of South Carolina along Interstate 95 of some the highest poverty communities and lowest funded schools in America. Damian went on to be offered 3 full scholarships.

Damian’s Essay:

In 2001, my father was shot to death in our front lawn. Too young to fully understand the circumstances surrounding my father’s death, I can only remember the endless tears of my mother and siblings. My nine siblings and I unexpectedly found ourselves being raised by a single mother who had not graduated from high school. The death of my father, the disciplinarian and financial breadwinner, left our family emotionally and financially devastated. We were not only in disarray, for years our household was dysfunctional. I entered elementary school emotionally troubled and socially detached. With my single-parent mother working long hours, at minimum wages to support our family, I had no at-home academic support or academic role models. Consequently, I struggled academically and was routinely disruptive throughout elementary school.

If not for a fortuitous turning point in my life, I could have easily found myself like so many others in my community—depressed, despondent, or dead. Nearing the end of the fifth grade, during a parent-teacher conference between my mother and my English teacher, my teacher told my mother that I was reading on a second-grade reading level. The look of sadness on my mother’s face crushed me. I found myself embracing my mother with tears flowing down my face and uncontrollably crying. I just kept repeating, “I’m sorry mama, I’m sorry.” Something happened to me during that meeting. I left the meeting determined to no longer allow the circumstances or my father’s death to serve as an excuse to fail, but as a motivator to excel.

I started working with my English teacher before and after school each day to increase my reading skills. I subsequently entered the 6th grade with a mindset of never again being the source of my mother’s disappointment and never again excusing my own failures. With the help of teachers and library administrators, I made a commitment to literacy and became a voracious reader, consuming books each day prior to school, and persistently working to expand my vocabulary. It was not long before I began receiving awards in reading, raised my reading level beyond grade level standards, and was placed into Advanced English the following year.

After becoming a proficient reader, I moved on to mastering my other subjects and qualified for enrollment into the most advanced academic classes offered at my high school. After entering high school I was invited to test for placement into the Gifted and Talented Program. A few weeks after taking the test, my mother received a letter from the district office congratulating me on placement into the program–the look of hope and joy on my mother’s face was a moment that I will never forget.

As I prepare for my final semester of high school, I do so with having been selected as one of five students from throughout the United States to have been awarded a $25,000 SallieMae ‘Bridging the Dream Scholarship’ and was honored by the Mayor of our community as the first student to ever be awarded a ‘Key to The City.’ While my life has unfolded in ways that would have been considered unimaginable just a few short years ago, I believe myself prepared for the many challenges that await me as I enter into the next phase of my life. I will be entering college with a goal of graduating with honors from my undergraduate program, qualifying for admission to law school, and graduating with honors from law school. After taking and successfully passing the bar exam, my goal is to enter politics where I can become a voice for racial and social justice. I want the challenges that I have experienced in my life to become an inspiration for others. I want to make a difference in my community and in the world around me.

One Student’s Journey from Viet Nam

The following essay is from Thuong, one of 2018 Guilford County Schools Cohort students, who successfully navigated her way into 3 full scholarships.

Thuong’s essay:

I was born in the countryside of Vietnam where human rights and human dignity were overshadowed by illegal monetary exchange and bribery—essentials for survival. Desperately seeking access to education, economic opportunities, and human justice, my family announced our departure to the land of freedom and prosperity—the United States. 

At the age of twelve, I was a careless youngster occupied by the thrill of exploration and unconcerned about the transition. Days after our arrival at a new residence in an unfamiliar country, realization tapped me. The foreign language, unfamiliar settings, and vast cultural differences created an unfamiliar distress. It might sound dramatic, but the volition and competence to adapt and assimilate to a new set of customs were the only mental support that kept my family surviving. We entered a foreign nation without any advanced knowledge, like newborns from mothers’ wombs, we miserably started from zero. 

As the youngest member of my family, I became the embodiment of hope of a promising future for our family. Unable to comprehend English, I began my American journey at the Doris Henderson Newcomers School where I enrolled in the school’s preparatory classes to learn English and to acclimate myself to the American academic system. After a year at the Newcomers School and during the second semester of the seventh grade, I transferred to a public middle school. Overwhelmed by the new changes, I was emotionally drained and often had difficulties with my classes. My frequent struggles with speaking English, resulted in incredulous comments from classmates, “Can you speak English?” As I retreated into an emotional shell, the comments became, “Are you mute?” 

During this difficult period of adjustment, my grades shifted up and down while my classroom participation was virtually nonexistent to avoid the curious questioning of my language. However, the beginning of the eighth grade brought many changes. My English proficiency had greatly improved. I could translate and interpret for my parents and I was no longer self-conscious about my difficulty in enunciating difficult English words. I eagerly participated in classroom discussions on my way to receiving my first straight ‘A’ progress report. While such a feat may have been common for others; for me, it was momentous. Obtaining A’s in all of my classes for the first time was symbolic of a successful transition into American life that lightened up my hope and inspired me to work even harder. With newly assured confidence, an entirely new chapter of my life began. I started to thrive for higher goals and endeavored to raise my personal, educational, and career aspirations even higher.


From Ghanain Immigrants to the University of Chicago

The following essay is from Jaylon, one of our 2021 Atlanta-area Cohort students, who successfully navigated his way into a full scholarship at the University of Chicago, valued at nearly $300,000 over 4 years.

I am the oldest of four children. My parents are both Ghanain immigrants. My idyllic life through elementary and middle school, during which I was able to participate in a broad range of extracurricular activities, such as the Beta Club, Reading Bowl, Challenge 24 Math Competitions, swimming, and soccer was abruptly changed as I entered the 8th grade. My father left my mother, younger siblings, and me to return to Ghana to assist in the care of my aging grandparents. Shortly after my father’s departure, we moved in with my maternal grandparents in Riverdale, Georgia. My mother, who was attending graduate school in addition to working two jobs, depended on me to assist my grandparents and care for my younger siblings. 

I was forced to drop out of all after school activities, with the lone exception of Boy Scouts, which typically met at our church on weekends. I shifted my focus from competing in spelling bees and math competitions to assisting my younger siblings, one in the first grade and the other in the 4th grade. With both of my younger siblings being in the gifted and talented program, they had regular school work, and much larger and more intensive gifted projects. I quickly learned that working with gifted children presents painfully unique challenges. Everything needed to be explained and debated. No matter what was said or explained, it would be challenged! Seemingly simple projects for a first grader took hours to complete. During the two years that we stayed with my grandparents, we shared a bedroom and computer. It was late into the night by the time I was able to get to my own school work. By the time I was able to complete my school work, my brothers were asleep and snoring. My brothers slept on a large queen-sized bed, snoring in stereo, while I slept on a blanket on the floor. I found my own studies being pushed into the early morning hours. I was totally exhausted when my head hit the pillow, or literally the floor, rather. I would awaken to my mother bellowing from the kitchen, “Jaylon, it is time to get up and get your brother and sister ready for school.”

The consolation for my efforts is the satisfaction of knowing that both of my younger siblings maintained straight A averages throughout elementary school and won the Challenge 24 Math Competitions each year at their respective grade levels. After over two years of living in my grandparents’ home and having to share one bathroom with my younger siblings and my mom, we moved into a larger house that my mom bought and my grandparents came to live there with us. Working with my younger siblings and assisting my grandparents has continued throughout high school. While my mother has been able to drive me to school in the mornings, the distance between school and my home has prevented my involvement in after school activities. Each day after school, I have to take an hour-long ride on the school bus to a centralized location. My elderly grandmother meets me at the drop off point daily for the 30-minute drive home. 

Although I still assist in the care of my grandparents, provide academic support for my younger siblings, and frequently cook family dinners, I no longer share a bathroom or computer. I even have my own bathroom. Above my bedroom door is a quote by G.K. Nielson, an early 20th century author, “Successful people are not gifted; they just work hard, then succeed on purpose.”

From Migrant Laborer to Gates Millennium Scholar

Rebeca, and her twin brother, David, returned to their school from working with their family as migrant laborers, picking squash, cotton, and tobacco. Rebeca and David returned to school early so that they could attend our College Planning Boot Camp. Rebeca went on to be selected as the second Gates Millennium Scholar in the history of her South Carolina School District.

I have been raised in a loving, supportive, hardworking, and close-knit Mexican-American family. My parents and two older siblings are seasonal migrant workers who were all born in Cuitláhuac, Veracruz, Mexico. Prior to immigrating to the United States, my father worked in the sugar cane fields and my mother worked in the linen factory. My father eventually made his way from Cuitláhuac, one of the poorest cities in Mexico, to Florida where he began working as a migrant laborer. After earning enough money to return to Mexico, my father returned and brought my mother and older siblings to the United States. My older siblings experienced so much difficulty attempting to attend school in the United States that they both dropped out of school during the seventh grade and began working full-time in the fields with my parents. In 1985, after receiving U.S. Residency status, my father moved our family to Savannah, Georgia where my twin brother and I were born. Immediately following the birth of my brother and I, my parents moved our family to South Carolina, where we have continually lived throughout each school year, only leaving to work in the fields during the summer months.

Despite being a family of 11, our trailer is bustling of love—and noise. Although our three-room double-wide trailer is busting at the seams with me sharing a room with my parents, my older sister and her family sharing a room, my older brother and his child (and occasionally his girlfriend) sharing a room, and my twin brother sleeping on the sofa, our home is full of love and everyone gets along.

Whenever I am asked if there is something “special” someone needs to know about me, the first thing that comes to mind is my twin brother, David, who was born three minutes before me at 12:47 am, on December 4, 1997, at the Memorial Medical Center in Savannah, Georgia. Unlike my parents and older siblings, my twin brother and I were born U.S. citizens.

Should I become honored with being selected as a Gates Millennium Scholar, I would like to lead outreach efforts to other college students who are the first in their family to attend college, and especially those from migrant families. While many of my classmates talk about pursuing ‘their careers’ and living ‘their dreams,’ all of the students I know who are migrants talk about pursuing careers and earning money so that they can provide financial support for their families—they always refer to the ‘collective dream.’

While my twin brother and I will become the first in our family to graduate from high school and attend college, neither of us plan to become a distraction from our family’s primary goal of purchasing a house. We are committed to earning enough scholarship money to pay for college. If we are only awarded the Pell Grant and South Carolina LIFE Scholarship, we will stay at home and work part-time. If we receive enough money through scholarships or institutional grants, we will stay on campus and work part-time to earn enough money to pay for all of our personal expenses beyond what is covered by our scholarships.

Many people assume that migrant families force their children to work in the fields and discourage them from attending college; however, this has never been the situation for my twin brother and me. Our parents did not force us to work in the fields, we wanted to work with our parents and older siblings because working together as a family is an important part of our culture. My brother and I have grown to love working in the blueberry and soybean fields, and even cleaning cotton. I would not exchange the experiences of working in the fields or having served as a translator for my family, community and friends for anything in the world. Whenever someone in my family or community needs a translator for a doctor’s appointment or paying a bill, I am the one they call for help. When I am translating and the person I am speaking to pauses to tell me that I speak both languages clearly and fluently, I feel a rush of happiness flow throughout my body. It is so personally gratifying to be fluent in two languages and to have developed an English vocabulary which allows me to effectively share my thoughts in both spoken and written forms.