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Give & Take: Bloom Where You Are Planted

Shadae Leslie  Follow

Picture this – a high school sophomore fresh from completing her first PSATs unaware she was on the brink of the most pivotal years for college hopefuls. As an immigrant and first-generation student, my exposure to the American college system at that time, amounted to Gossip Girl and A Different World. While helpful context for the teenage social scene, those shows were unrelatable and couldn’t provide the guidance I needed to navigate this new challenge.

I was fortunate to be assigned to the BEST guidance counselor at Mount Vernon High School – Peggy Williams - who helped me navigate both my personal and academic obstacles. One day, she hosted a session on Mount Vernon Star Scholars (MVSS), a non-profit organization helping academically gifted students in high school gain admittance to highly selective U.S. colleges and universities. Little did I know this program would change my life path forever. 

The two-year program provided counseling from a volunteer mentor and provided college preparation for students throughout their college application and selection process. My mentor, Arleen Zuckerman, and the rest of the team at MVSS, supported me and my peers with research, school visits and options for securing financial aid, ultimately assuaging any fears we might have had for the process. Thanks to my time with Arleen, I was able to learn of so many amazing schools (including the one that I ultimately attended) and scholarships that made going away to school more affordable.

After graduating college and starting my professional career at Prosek, I was able to connect with current students in the program. And just a few years later, I realized that I was now in a place to offer advice and guidance to those who used to be in my shoes! The board members of MVSS were seeking a voice for the alums and someone who could more closely relate to prospective students, which led to my seat as the inaugural alumni board member of MVSS.

Through this position, I have been able to give back to the same community that gave so much to me. We often underestimate the value of seeing relatable representation, and it can sometimes seem like you don’t have enough insight to offer as a young adult. Going back to my old stomping grounds and advising students who are dealing with the uncertainty of higher education during the pandemic has reminded me that simply offering support is valuable, and can make a huge difference in someone else’s journey. If you’re looking for ways to give back, take a look at the organizations that have benefitted you in your journey and see how you can become more involved. Any day is a good day to be the person you wish you knew for someone else – or in my case, the people I was blessed to have.

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