I suppose my luck really begins with having my mom as a mother. Early on, she imparted to me and my siblings what was truly important in life: knowledge, because no one could ever take it away from me, and love and kindness, because it is our relationship with others in the world that truly ends up defining us. Under my mother’s patient guidance, my siblings and I were raised to be the greatest of friends—friends who might bicker and disagree with one another, but who loved each other at the end of the day. I am grateful to have my older sister, who constantly inspires me, and my younger brother, who constantly challenges me.

I am thankful to a long list of educators, many of whom I will probably never meet again but who have all had a role in creating the individual I am today. Ms. MacDonald taught me how to read, Ms. Morro—to tell time, and Ms. Lavergata instilled in me an earnest respect for punctuality. But it was really my middle school teachers who first saw the potential in me, and who did everything in their power to push me towards better opportunities. Even in an underfunded, under-resourced school, I never lacked for encouragement. With Ms. Turnquest-Jones, I discovered a newfound joy in writing; Mr. Power always gave me new books to read and taught me to appreciate the power of words and language; and Mr. Ramirez awed me with history. A teacher who had never even taught me in a classroom, Mr. Miller, volunteered his own time to prepare us all for New York City’s Specialized High School Admissions Test, the entrance exam for the city’s premier magnet schools. It was because of relentless dedication like theirs that I was able to go to a high school with some of the best programs.

My teachers at the Bronx High School of Science impressed me with their love for teaching and challenging students. I had always struggled in Math but all of my teachers in the Math department helped me feel a sense of accomplishment when I succeeded in new challenges. My teachers in the English department taught me to take pride in my work. Mr. Symons, our Mock Trial Coach, taught us that determination could win even the hardest battles. Ms. McGuigan, my freshman year English teacher who wrote one of my recommendations, showed me that I could represent the complexity of my struggle in beautiful language. Mr. Radman always welcomed me to chat about the newest stage of the process and life in general. And Ms. Ngai, my tireless guidance counselor, helped me fight for the chance to pursue my dreams of going away to college.

So my advice to high school seniors is this: when you have a free period, drop in on the teachers who inspired you the most, or who pushed you hardest. Talk to people who are responsible for molding your educational experience; take initiative for your performance and growth as an individual. Chances are, these same teachers who teach you about a particular mathematical concept or literary technique have pearls of wisdom to offer up about the greater mysteries of life in general.