During this time of year, I am constantly reminded of the endless support I have received throughout the years, especially in high school and college, to help me get to where I am now. Firstly, I am of course thankful for my parents and my family. Their hard work and dedication have been a defining factor in my personal growth and my own motivation for succeeding. My parents have been living in the US for more than 25 years after immigrating from Bangladesh. Hearing stories about their struggles after coming into this new environment and having to adjust their entire life while raising three children has always been inspiring for my siblings and I and I never forget it. Whenever I am feeling down or feeling as though I cannot push forward, my parents’ story always serves as a strong drive for moving forward.

I went to the High School of Economics and Finance located on Wall Street, two blocks away from the World Trade Center. As a Muslim girl, wearing the hijab in an especially politically charged America, there were points where I feared for my life every time I stepped outside of my home. Adjusting to high school was hard enough already and was exacerbated by the stereotypical terrorist comments I faced on a daily basis. However, despite these negative experiences, what came out of it were two amazing support systems that are still prominent in my life now. One of them is called SEO Scholars, an eight-year college-readiness program that caters to low-income minority students in public NYC schools. Their mission is to get students to and through college by providing academic support and preparing students for college and for life. I truly do not know what I would do without this program. From offering tutoring for my regular high school classes to helping me study abroad and paying for SAT prep for all its students, needless to say, this program changed my life. They have given me access to so many opportunities I would’ve never thought was possible including getting into my dream college, Barnard College. Everyone at SEO is constantly supporting and motivating each other to be the best version of themselves. I have developed lifelong friendships and relationships with the adults through the program.

I know I am biased but I strongly believe that my high school guidance office is the best in New York City. My high school was about 700 students in total across all grade levels, 9th through 12th. Depending on your grade, your guidance counselor who you are paired with is there as a support system. However, these guidance counselors are not just people you meet during your senior year when asking for a recommendation letter during the college application season. Right from the start of high school, I was strongly encouraged to use the guidance office as a resource in any way I sought fit. In addition, there was a separate college office and college advisor within the guidance department. By my senior year, I grew so close to everyone in the guidance department. It was through my college advisor, Mr. Frank Biscardi that I found out about SEO. During my junior and senior years, I would visit my guidance counselor, Mr. Daniel Perez, every single day. I owe so much of my success to these two individuals because they push me beyond my comfort zone. They were always honest with me and there for me through my lowest points.

It is because of these support systems that I applied to a similar college-level support system, Barnard’s Opportunity Program. I received my admission at Barnard through New York State’s HEOP program and I am so thankful for this program. It is essentially all these support systems I was a part of in high school all wrapped up into one. Having someone or multiple people you can count on is so important especially during college. College is hard but it’s easier when you don’t feel like you are on your own. Whether it be a friend or a group of friends, or an advisor or professor, these relationships are essential to our personal development and allow us to be the best version of ourselves even when things get tough.