The time of year has come again for many high school seniors to open college admission letters. Some are filled with denials, and others are filled with rewarding acceptances. No matter what group you fall under, you should continue to reward yourself for all that you've overcome & all that you will accomplish. Nearly 1 year ago, I was in the same position- overfilled with joy when receiving acceptances, but all of that excitement was diminished with just one denial. I felt the endless hours I put into volunteering, striving for the best grades, and perfecting my college essays were just not enough.

I wish I had recognized the truth sooner, but unfortunately, it took me months. I had to remind myself: though I am a student, a friend, a daughter, a sister, before all of those- I am a person. Just like many of us do, I had experienced hardships that no high schooler should have to go through. I knew that every battle I overcame molded me into that talented student, but those who could not recognize how my pain translated into prosperity were those on the other side, reading my essays.

During my junior year of high school, I tragically lost my best friend in the entire world, my brother. With the main focus of junior year aimed towards SAT testing, applying to college, or perfecting those last grades to squeeze onto your transcripts, my mind was nowhere near any of those things. I missed weeks of school because I could not sit in a classroom for more than 20 minutes without breaking down. My grades began to quickly plummet, and the ambitious student inside of me was burning out. I had to complete the semester with grades that did not meet my satisfaction, but the last thing I could do was discipline myself in a time where I did not even recognize myself.

It was only two months later when I began the first drafts of my college essay. The prompt read "The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?". My inner writer was ready to tackle this essay. For the first time in months, I had a roaring crave inside of me to apply myself to school. My fingers began typing away and my mind was on a pursuit to explain the reinvented Gia De Jesus- the one who was destined to persevere, despite tragedy.

I approached my English teacher with the first draft with hopes of admiration, since it was my first time actively participating in school work, but that was not the case. She was only 3 sentences into my- what I thought was a masterpiece- before stating "Gia, you cannot write about this.". With confusion and anger, the words rushed to the tip of my tongue "What do you mean I can't write about this? There are no rules. THIS setback is what made me who I am, and isn't expressing your personality through your essay the focus of all of this?" I was then explained the "topics to avoid for your college admission essay"- death, divorce, and drugs.

While I settled for a topic that did not display my identity with the utmost acknowledgment, I knew I wasn't the only one who struggled to understand these limitations. So many of us are forced to direct our thoughts to a different aspect of life, which holds equal significance, simply due to the frequency of such topics. While I knew I had not been the only person out of the millions of people applying to college to be affected by a traumatic experience, I did not want my story to go unheard. It is more than just family deaths, there are people who are bullied, people who are separated from their families, people who suffer from mental illnesses, people who came from the worst of situations and made themselves into something better.

Some of the people who experience traumatic events are fortunate enough to have other family members to grieve/ vent with, but for others, they do not have that support system. These essays are perceived as an opportunity to open up and think with no boundaries, to speak truthfully, and to be heard- even when the readers remain unknown. Whether you still hold closely all of your family members, or you do not have an illness which requires you to be stabilized on medicine, we all have a story to share. If going to college is something that will inevitably become necessary for one to be successful, it is only fair to understand that applicant as a person, not for their lettered grades or their numbered scores.