Our 2020 Finney Injury Law Scholarship Winners

Cortney Brewer

photo of cortney brewer

Cortney’s Winning Essay

By the end of 2016 my insecurities, fears, and traumas were brought to the forefront of my life. It was finally clear that regardless of my best efforts, I was not in control. I was living in Kansas City, Missouri at the time. The romantic relationship I was in was enduringly toxic. The few friendships I had left were dissolving, and within a span of months I had experienced great loss and trauma. My life had become a loop of depression and anxiety. I felt conflicted on a regular basis and there seemed to be few options for change. In 2018, I finally decided to disconnect from destructive ties and move back home to St. Louis, MO in hopes of restoring balance in my life. It wasn’t until I was settled in that I realized I was finding balance for the first time.

Moving back home held some unique challenges on its own. Although I was no longer living in turbulence, I was far beyond my comfort zone. After about six months of returning home, it was clear that I could not avoid the discomfort necessary to grow and heal. I had not lived at home since high school and was now an adult. Although my home was familiar, my living environment was a new experience for both me and my mother. There were responsibilities I had to accept as a grown up living at home that had not been the case as a teenager. My mother had to accept that I was not a little girl and was obligated to give me the room to grow and live my own life as an adult. Other challenges included readjusting to new social relationships. My high school friends and I were at different places- both literally and figuratively. I found myself attending social events such as poetry slams, the movies, and even restaurants by myself. It was difficult finding the courage to go to places alone, but I knew I needed to be okay in my aloneness. At times I had to remind myself that being alone and being lonely were not the same.

As I made emotional growth spurts, I found my core values began to change. I became less critical of myself and others. I learned to live with myself and accept the gifts that I have received along the way. I began to use perspective taking to understand others’ points of view and ultimately render compassion and empathy towards them. Most importantly, I learned to hold on to only those things that brought me positive energy. I learned to surround myself with experiences that enhanced my growth rather than stunted it. I picked up books from the library, listened to podcasts and kept a gratitude journal. Through my many ups and downs I have learned that we are all more alike than I had once thought. I began to understand that healing is not a destination; rather it is a lifelong journey. Through adversity I’ve discovered the importance of flexibility, empathy, and resilience within my own experiences.

Not only have I grown in acquiring these character traits from my own experiences, but I have also learned the gift of resiliency through the experiences of others such as my grandfather, or PaPa as I affectionately call him. My grandfather has often told me the story of how he overcame adversity as a middle and high school student integrating an all white Oklahoma City School District in the 1960’s. He tells the story of how his teachers made him and other black students sit in the back of the class and made fun of the way they spoke in front of all of their peers. My PaPa is 73 years old but he tells the stories as though they happened yesterday. Even after high school he continued to experience blatant and overt racism simply because of the color of his skin. My grandfather faced adversity with resilience and determination. Though he is scarred from his experiences, he is not knocked down. He grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma with signs that said, “Whites Only” and “Coloreds Only” for water fountains, restrooms and restaurants. Today, my grandfather is the strongest and wisest person I know. He, my grandmother, my mom, aunts and cousins have been the family support system that I have needed to get through tumultuous times in my life. They have also been there to celebrate my accomplishments, no matter how small or great.

Finally, I have learned that flexibility and resilience are two sides of the same coin. I define flexibility as the willingness to accept the flow of my experience. There have been many moments when I have expressed stubbornness and inflexibility. This rigidness was due to a need to control what could not be controlled. I was holding onto fragments of broken relationships and traumatic experiences because I had allowed those things to define me. So often my circumstances seemed to bend me to near brokenness. Overcoming the challenge of loss and depression has given me the opportunity to see what lies beyond fear; hope. Hope, I found, is just fear untethered. As I became more hopeful, I became more courageous. I began to look at how I could help others as a result of my adversity. As the climate began to change in our society, due to the injustices and violation of civil rights of African American citizens, I wondered what part I could play in mitigating the dissension that many people of different races and cultures held against one another. A mantra that has been quite omniscient during these times has been “Black Lives Matter”. Initially I found myself overwhelmed by the various traumas within my community and my own life that were resurfacing. However, as I continued to learn and heal, I understood, despite the trauma I had encountered in the past, that my life indeed matters. No longer would I need someone to tell me that my life mattered. I knew that it did. I knew that the adversities I had overcome were integral to my “becoming”.

My mom used to tell me that I was resilient, and I did not like it at all. I could not see the meaning in my endurance during that period of my life. At the time I seemed to be allowing my life to “crumble”, so I didn’t understand how I could be considered resilient. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” During my darkest moments what I found to be the most frustrating was my ability to stay hopeful. It is nearly impossible to give up when, even deep down, you keep convincing yourself to try. Even though I could not see the outward expansion of my inner resilience, I knew that a page was beginning to turn in my life.

In moments of adversity I have at times felt alone, but there is a comfort in knowing that even in loneliness, we are not alone. Through my own challenges, I have gained a greater understanding of the challenges of others. This has created a foundation of empathy within my life. I’ve learned how to comfort myself through difficult experiences, but I have also found hope through the stories of others. Empathy requires vulnerability, but it’s been much easier to share my experiences knowing that I may be helping someone else overcome their challenges. I have also learned the importance of allowing others to support me through difficult times. This hasn’t always been easy because I prefer to work through things on my own, but I’ve discovered that accepting help is not a sign of weakness. Through assistance from my family and others who have been part of my support system, including my attorney John Echer, I have seen my life transformed through a willingness to accept support.

Overcoming various moments of adversity has been a testament to the heart and the mind’s ability to bounce back after trauma. Although my experiences have not always been ideal, in hindsight they have helped shape the person that I am today. I look forward to new beginnings in my life. One of my immediate goals is to complete my college career. Trauma attempts to subtract from one’s life, but resilience multiplies and has given me a multi-faceted view of things I face. I look forward to using my creative perspective to make a difference in this world. I want to take advantage of the opportunities that can be afforded to me through a college experience. I am proud of the accomplishments I have made, but I want to continue making strides. Through the difficulties I have encountered I have discovered how to be my most authentic self. I understand now that I am more than my experiences. I am beginning to understand how to navigate the waters of my life and that is something that has been well worth the journey.

Quotes from Cortney’s Letters of Recommendation

Her compassionate stance has been a much needed resource in a school that has the constraints of poverty and low academic performance for most of the population. Cortney has used her ability to connect with people from all walks of life to make the most of her time with others.” -Carmille Johnson, M. Ed

“Cortney is a young lady who has shown resilience, determination, and flexibility in the face of adversity and inequity. She has shown fortitude where others may have given up. Her experiences have given her a unique insight for being a voice for young people in today’s climate where equity for all is being challenged in frameworks, policy, and civil rights.”-Nana Becoat, M. Ed.

Rothman R Harris III

rothman harris

Rothman’s Winning Essay

When asked to describe a time where I have overcome adversity in my life many situations come to mind for example whenever I broke my arm or my sports team was behind or I was the underdog. These situations happen often and overcoming them play a big part in making me into the man I am today and the man that I strive to be. However other situations that come to mind are ones where my race plays a role and is made out to be a boundary keeping me from completing the task at hand. There isn’t just one of these situations that I can pick and describe how I overcame it because it is my entire life. What I can do is provide several examples of this adversity that I have faced everyday.

“The saddest part of the human race is we’re obsessed with this idea of ‘us and them,’ which is really a no-win situation, whether it’s racial, cultural, religious or political.”(Dave Matthews) This idea means that humans are segregated and there is no unity because of race. Race in present-day America is the cause of a plethora of conflict between individuals because race is the root of racism in America. Humans lack the capacity to forget skin color and set aside differences to achieve a common goal. Having different skin colors causes complexities for each and every race but mainly minorities. One race that’s presence in America is extremely complex is the African American race. Being black in America means having to deal with the race problem of today; African Americans have to endure unconscious bias, the inherent “non-racism”, and the underlying ideology of racial supremacy.

Unconscious Bias is one of the many traits that plaques bipeds causing them to be racist. Unconscious Bias is when a person’s brain makes quick judgments about people, without even realizing it, based on stereotypes or personal experiences.

A common example of unconscious bias is whenever someone says the word “Muslim”, people automatically think terrorist without even considering the chance that the “Muslim” being referred to is just another regular person. Walter Dean Myers wrote a memoir about his childhood and his journey to finding out who he really was. Throughout the memoir, he had to deal with a multitude of unconscious bias. He was struggling to find himself when he decided to tell himself an extremely racist comment made by his teachers. “and this is what I did, telling myself over and over again what white teachers so often told me, that race didn’t matter if you were bright.”(Myers 179) He did not realize at the time that the comments were racist and the teachers probably did not either. They did not find anything racist about what they said because it was all they knew. In fact, they were trying to be the opposite of racist but by saying that race does not matter as long as one is bright is implying that race does matter for all the people that are not bright.

Another example of unconscious bias in action is a time when my family and I went out to eat. We were dressed up in our suits and nice clothes. We walked into the restaurant and noticed this Caucasian family staring at us, then when they could not hold it anymore an elderly lady at the table called my sister over. The elderly lady asked my sister if we were singers. She asked this because she had never seen a black person dressed up before for any other reason than performers. Now she presumably was not trying to be racist but her brain made a quick judgment about us, based on her background, and caused her to make the comment. Unconscious bias is displayed in the workplace too. One manager needed to hire a qualified manager to manage an urban project. He claims that he used common sense to pick a black manager. He was asked why and he answered: “because he speaks the language.”. The manager just assumed that because the candidate was black that he knew the urban community and “spoke the language”.

Another trait that plaques bipeds is inherent “non-racism”. Inherit “non-racism” is when humans gain insight from their parents or superiors. They then take this knowledge and try to do the exact opposite of it, as their parents did. Which sometimes can be just as racist as the actual racist comment or action. One example of this would be the Caucasian family mentioned earlier. When the elderly lady asked the question her family was okay with it because they thought by not saying “the only reason we could be dressed up was that we were performers”, that they were not being racist but they were, in fact, doing the opposite. Another example of “non-racism” is the Variety review of the 2018 film Get Out. The review says that “love is colorblind”(The Independent.) Saying that love is color blind seems like a non-racist remark but it is because it describes the race as “color”. The review also describes the lead character as “a dark-skinned black man”.(The Independent) Variety thought that they were just describing the lead character but there was no need to doubly describe him. They did not need to label him dark-skinned and black. The last example of inherent non-racism is in the film Get Out. One of the white characters is talking to the lead, who is black, about his life and he exclaims “black is in fashion”. The white character is trying to relate to the black one by saying this. He also says this to show that he is not racist but in reality, he is being racist by turning “blackness” into an object and implying that it was not always “ in fashion” meaning that sometimes being black is bad. The Independent says “that behind every throwaway racial remark lies something of an entirely more sinister magnitude.” Which applies to this situation. He is disbanding the whole black culture by saying that black is currently in fashion because it means that the white culture controls the black culture.

One of the main traits that is the underlying ideology of racial supremacy. The underlying ideology of racial supremacy is that many Caucasian individuals that race is superior to other races. They do not believe in the idea of equality. An example of this ideology is a scene in the film Get Out. An Asian-American man asks the lead “ Do you find that being African American has more advantage or disadvantage in the modern world?” He is saying this based on University of California Irvine political science professor Claire Jean Kim’s theory of racial triangulation. The theory says that Whites are on top, Asians in the middle, and African Americans on the bottom. The theory also says that Whites think of Asians as more “foreign than African Americans, so Asians are constantly trying to be accepted by the Whites as “true Americans”.(The Things) The Asian American man is trying to decide if his current status, as an Asian, is better or worse than the status of being black. In the memoir, Bad Boy, Walter Dean Myers is trying to find out who he is and who to identify as. He did not want to identify as being black because of the restrictions that were set in place so he chose to identify as an intellectual. He did not care that he was black but his white counterparts felt the need to let him know and dehumanize him for it. “I wasn’t born with a hyphen linking me to Africa, any more than I was born with a desire to dribble a basketball or to write. These were interests that I worked on developing. These were activities I chose. Being Afro-American, or black, was being imposed on me by people who had their own ideas of what those terms meant.”(Myers 177) Another example of the underlying ideology of racial supremacy is in the college education department. I was looking online for a college scholarship when I came across one that seemed pretty nice, so I looked at the requirements for the scholarship and one of the qualifications was under a section titled “Race”. The section listed several races that were eligible for the scholarship. One race among the list was African American but White was not on the list.

Another check mark that was on the list was “Socioeconomically Disadvantaged”. This displays racial supremacy in two ways. One way is that by placing “African American” and “ Socioeconomically Disadvantaged” in the same category they are implying that all African Americans are socioeconomically disadvantaged. The second reason being that I would like to receive a scholarship for my academic or athletic ability and achievements, not for my “frame and genetic makeup”(Get Out) which translates to “being black”.

Race in present-day America is the reason for plenty of contention between people since race is the base of bigotry in America. People do not have the ability to overlook skin shading and put aside contrasts to accomplish a shared objective. Having distinctive skin hues causes complexities for every single race however for the most part minorities. One race, that is nearness, in America, to a great degree complex is the African American race. Being dark in America implies dealing with the race issue of today; African Americans have to endure unconscious bias, the inherent “non-racism”, and the underlying ideology of racial supremacy. When it comes to facing these adversities the only thing that I have done and I guess can do is remain the bigger person and carry myself with the highest prose possible, educate myself and others and just try to reach a middle ground by creating a world where everyone is seen as equal.

Quotes from Rothman’s Letters of Recommendation

Rothman is also very family-oriented and a devout friend. He takes pride in helping his family in any way possible. He makes good decisions with his peers and lives his life with tremendous character and positive moral values. He is definitely a positive role model for his siblings and for other students.”-David R. Buerck, P.T. Clinic Director, Farmington & Desloge Sports & Rehab

“In high school Rothman has taken a full college course load many semesters even when his coaches and techers told him it would be okay if he did less. He has a persistent work ethic while maintaining respect for the advice people give him. He is an Eagle Scout and the only football player I’ve ever seen voluntarily doing community service early on a Saturday morning after a Friday night football game. His contributions to the school and community are countless.”-Alexander Lloyd, History Teacher & Assistant Football Coach, Farmington High School

Eric Estrada Lopez

eric estrada

Eric’s Winning Essay

As a Hispanic first-generation student, I learned to adapt to many new things. From the moment I entered my kindergarten class I realized to be included, I needed to assimilate to a new language and customs. At a young age, I realized all the help I needed to adapt to feel comfortable. I was given so much help that other students weren’t receiving in other parts of this world for which I am grateful to have received. I entered A+ and discovered I enjoy tutoring, helping my sophomore students understand the material, being taught brought me joy. I knew I was able to pay the debt I had for other teachers who helped me by helping other students.

My Pattonville Education is vital to me because I owe my family a lot. Being able to pursue an education my parents weren’t able to do, gives me the strength to continue going at it hard. I have been pushed so much for which I am grateful. I have learned that the challenges that come my way allow me to learn because whether I can overcome the challenge or not. I have learned to view different topic issues with a more open eye. I have learned to think and give an open opinion but also respect others’ views. I have learned so much all thanks to my education at Pattonville. I believe I owe every teacher who has ever taught me so much acknowledgment for my growth as a person and educationally. To begin with in kindergarten, English was the barrier that kept me from being involved with the culture I was surrounded by my entire life that I didn’t know much about, at first. Both my parents do not speak English well so it took time for me to vocalize and reach the level of comprehension students my age already knew. By the time I entered 3rd grade, I gained excellent reading, mathematic, social studies, and science comprehension skills which allowed me to test out of the ELL (English Language Learners) program. In school, I was taught English and at home my parents did what they could in showing me how to speak and write in Spanish. Entering high school, I was placed into AP Spanish 4, which allowed me to grammatically improve my Spanish speaking and writing. I admit it was not as simple as I thought it would be, but practicing it allowed me to improve.

So, in order to practice it more, I continued onto Spanish 5 in my sophomore year. That same year, I took the Spanish AP exam and passed it proficiently. I understand the importance of knowing both English and Spanish in this country because both my parents’ dominant language is Spanish. English has been a barrier for them as they can comprehend it well, but not speak it. So, I know other students in the same situation as my parents may have difficulty communicating and, in turn, being part of the culture due to this barrier. For me, this skill is a tool to help spread knowledge to those who may not be dominant in the English language but dominate in Spanish. From all I’ve learned throughout my two years in Spanish I have been able to complete a project demonstrating my comprehension skills in both languages to receive my seal of biliteracy. I decided to tutor after school and translate documents for my project. From the beginning of my project, I was excited to start because I love serving my community. Helping those who are in most need has always brought me happiness. I want to be able to spread knowledge to others who may not be given the level of education I was given. To demonstrates to others how much strength/knowledge we attain from our teachers and that knowledge is power, and how power can allow you to live the life you wish for. To me, it is important to represent both cultures in the best way possible.

So far, I’ve worked with the international club each year to help display a bit of the different cultures at our school, Pattonville High School. It is important for others to know and acknowledge the difference in all and every culture as we all bring so much flavor and art with our different music, dance, and traditions. Throughout the International club I was able to work with a group of unique individuals which allowed me to feel more welcome as we all have differences that make us all a lot more similar than what we thought.

Our similarities come from our situations in having to work harder as most of us have parents who immigrated from their home countries to the U.S. which are commonly faced with the language barrier. Working together allows us to know more and share traditions and form friendships. Working together as a unity to promote the message of being open-minded and accepting of the unique difference each one of us has that may be uncommon to others. For all of us to acknowledge that it is still important to be the best you and not live by being replicas of each other.

Throughout my four years of high school not only have I been a participant in the International Club, where students come together to promote culture and organize events for our school, but others as well. I’m an active member of the community service club where I recycle the teachers’ recycling bins properly, which helps maintain Pattonville and our environment clean. I was also involved in theatre/backstage. I operated the lights for different fun events in the auditorium such as musical, plays, and concerts. I also tutored sophomores for A+. Based on my experience with tutoring I’ve realized that helping others understand the material being taught brings satisfaction to me because I know and understand how difficult it may be for the underclassmen students to reach out so I’m always happy to help and reach out to them, instead. Helping the sophomore students understand the material. I knew I was able to pay the debt to the teachers who have helped me by helping other students. Not only helping others on their education but overall, helping those who are underrepresented such as minorities and especially children who like me are a first-generation child to immigrants to the US.

I understand a lot of us may go through different hardships, so being able to make sure children receive at least a proper education in high school or college is what’s important to me, and is the path I want to take for my career. Throughout my four years of high school I have been awarded the citizenship award. I love helping people, especially people who I can relate to or who have gone through the same struggles as I did when it came to education. As a child in a family of eight, I wasn’t always given what I wanted, just the things I needed because my family was always big. My family grew instantly, within eight years from their first child being born, my parents had six kids total, including me. Although I couldn’t always get things I wanted, I was always given what was most important, love, and care. I value everything given to me and feel guilty when I have to ask for money because I don’t work and have decided to focus my mind on just school.

Currently, my financial situation, my father is employed and makes 1,200+ a week and my mother had to quit her job due to a medical situation. My mother currently takes care of her mother, who is ill and spends most of her time each day doing so because there isn’t anyone else who would. Due to our situation, my mother and father try their best to provide for my siblings and I. I’m more than thankful for having food on the table and a roof over my head. I understand the significance of what education means to the Finney Injury Law as it means to me. Being able to lend a hand to young incoming college students brings encouragement, at least to me to know that a person who may not know me supports me and creates encouragement for me to pursue a bright future. Being able to overcome education barriers is an accomplishment no one can take away from me. I plan on achieving so much with my education, as of now, I aspire to help others whether it’s politically, educationally, or through healthcare. I want to help unrepresented people such as undocumented children entering our country with their families not being able to obtain the education, medical help, and representation they hoped to seek when migrating over due to their immigrant status. Being able to show and set an example to other students of low-income that if you obtain knowledge you receive power and money shouldn’t be a set back to your success.

Quotes from Eric’s Letters of Recommendation

I believe his caring nature comes from his own experience as a first generation American and first generation college student who has faced his own struggles growing up in a low-income family of 8. Through his personal experience as an elementary student learning a new language and culture and dealing with the daily financial struggles his family
faces, Eric has a genuine empathy and understanding for the hardships that others are also facing. Currently in his
family, only his father works because his mother has a health condition that prevents her from working and she
also cares for his ailing grandmother. Despite these hardships, Eric is extremely grateful for everything he has,
never complaining, but instead helping other students in similar situations.” – Michelle L. Luraschi, M.Ed, NCC, MCC,
College & Career Preparation Coordinator/Counselor

“My interaction with students is proportional to the amount of time they spend in the Auditorium itself. Eric started out as just a club member working lights for his club’s showcase performance his first year, to someone I knew I could count on to be on light crew for just about every performance held throughout the school year.

I hope that in perusing higher education, Eric can hone in on his passions, and use that knowledge to forge the path that is best for him. I look forward to seeing this bright, kind young man flourish in the future!”

Reanna Meyer

Reanna’s Winning Essay

Gender diversity towards women is often overlooked because individuals are expected to simply accept the hardships that accompany the societal standards. I have always been determined to be a strong, powerful woman. However, this determination has taught me the harsh truth of double standards between males and females. Overall, women are underrepresented in occupational and athletic settings. All of my life I have participated in competitive softball with ranging personalities of players and coaches. My participation in softball showed me first hand how female athletes experience far more obstacles than male athletes. Certain male coaches do not hold us female athletes to the same standard as male athletes. Once women show an ounce of compassion or feminism on the field, court, gym, etc. they are viewed as weak. The same standard exists in the workforce amongst strong female leaders and employees. This ideal amidst female athletes creates a divide because we feel as if we are not able to support one another due to the fear of seeming fragile. Men often make women feel uncomfortable and out of place to boost their egos. Society wants women to choose a box and stay there; either you are a loving and soft female, or you are a strong and harsh leader. Why can’t women simply have their own personalities without their gender playing a role in society’s expectations. These gender-specific standards have affected me in my athletic career and my everyday life on several occasions.

Playing competitive softball for many years gave me a strong sense of confidence in my body and physical abilities. I have learned to brush off the comments such as “ wow you throw like a girl” because they truly mean nothing to me. I am a confident young athlete who does not need praise from others in order to feel powerful. However, when I first stepped into my local gym to train two years ago, I immediately felt insecure and out of place. I was a young female surrounded by mostly older men and a few women. Being a woman in an almost all-male setting is a difficult obstacle for any female to face for many reasons. I immediately refused to attend the gym alone because I felt overwhelmed by the men and expectations I felt were in place for me. The few times that I did attend alone, I was constantly stared at and approached by men who thought it was acceptable to interrupt my sets to engage in conversation. Many times men would tell me how they could help my form, but even in those scenarios I never asked for help and I would have much rather been left alone. When I am approached by a man at the gym regarding my exercises or appearance, I feel uncomfortable and insecure for the rest of my workout. Women are constantly feeling judged in any athletic setting, but men usually do not have to worry about the same feelings.

Once my friend began attending with me, I began to feel increasingly confident in myself when working out. She showed me how to ignore the comments and to simply focus on improving myself. Seeing my physical progression encouraged me to continue my workouts to improve my well-being. I now often attend the gym by myself because I have learned that nobody is stronger than my determination to be a healthy, strong young woman. I finally overcome my diversity and it showed me how my perseverance can push me to do or be anything I wish. I now focus on lifting other women up and encouraging them to overcome their personal obstacles as well. I also learned that being a woman in the athletic world is a large diversity that many choose to ignore.

Overcoming the diversity of being a female athlete has taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to. I am a driven young woman and I have set many personal goals to achieve. Women in my community continue to motivate me every day to expand my desire to study and explore my career. The all-female graduating class of surgeons from Saint Louis University is a magnificent inspiration to me. I dream of one day becoming an encouraging female that others look up to for encouragement. I will always strive to succeed in school and become a strong woman leader in my profession.

Quotes from Reanna’s Letters of Recommendation

Not only as a proud uncle, but as an educator, I can personally attest to Reanna’s intellectual competency, extraordinary work ethic, and commitment to doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. I’ve had the privilege of watching her learn and grow into a responsible young woman; full of limitless promise and potential, but also remarkable very self-aware and kind to others— a skill many adults lack. Moreover, she is thoughtful, engaged, well-prepared and absolutely accountable to herself, her family, friends, and employers, showing an extraordinary grasp ethical behavior and responsibility.” -Peter C. Sullivan

“I have known Reanna for the past two years. As her teacher, I have had the opportunity to observe her leadership skills, willingness to learn, and her attitude as a student. I would rate her overall approach to school as superior. This is evidenced by her outstanding classroom conduct, enthusiasm, and her determination to succeed in all areas. She constantly shows an obvious drive and ambition that can be seen by all those around her.” -Lisa Matzker, Marketing Teacher/DECA Advisor

Eda Sagnek

eda sagnek

Eda’s Winning Essay

As a straight A high school student involved in countless extracurricular and volunteer activities, I thought I was ready for college. I had gotten accepted into a top twenty university and the world was my oyster. On orientation day, I joined other incoming freshmen for a question and answer panel with a few current students. Although I don’t remember what the question was, I remember one of the students’ answers very vividly. A student on the panel claimed that when she was admitted into the university, she expected A’s in her classes, but she soon found out that it was much more difficult to achieve these A’s in college than in high school. She continued by saying seeing B’s and C’s in your freshman year are totally normal and okay. I remember thinking no way B’s and C’s are okay. She must have not studied hard enough. I wouldn’t make the mistakes she had made her freshman year. Instead, I would study hard and get those A’s. No one could stop me. Or that’s what I thought.

The first week of my freshman year set the tone for the next few months of my college career and it wasn’t a good one. Like every other freshman, I had signed up for 15 credits my first semester. One of these classes were cancelled the first week, which sounds amazing at first. But when I went to this class the following week, I soon realized I had made a big mistake. I had enrolled myself in a 400-level law course with only one other student. I was told by the professor to drop the course and so I did. It gets worse. The following day was the add/drop deadline. It was already difficult to find spots available in courses as a freshman, but now it was nearly impossible. I dropped to 12 credits. But that’s okay because I brought in AP credits from high school.

As the semester progressed, I continuously scored low on exams in two of my courses, so I decided to talk to my four-year advisor to make some sort of a plan. She told me I wasn’t even supposed to be taking one of these courses as the other was its prerequisite. I was told to withdraw from the course, and so I did. I dropped to 9 credits. But that’s okay because I brought in credits from high school.

I finished my first semester with a GPA that was lower than half of my high school cumulative GPA. I was upset, angry, shocked, and worst of all, embarrassed. How could I fail so miserably my first semester? How would this affect my cumulative GPA in college? How could I ever put this GPA on my resume while applying for internships and jobs? How will I get into law school? These are some questions I still battle with to this day.

As I try to overcome the hardship that was my first semester, I’ve learned a few things about myself and about the American college system. I learned that I experienced culture shock at WashU. I was and am surrounded by students from all over the country and the world. Many of these students are wealthy, even privileged I would say. While learning about the culture shock I experienced, I landed on a book called “The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students” by Anthony Abraham Jack. According to Jack, universities compete for low-income kids, students of color, and first-generation students, but maintain policies that remind these students of their disadvantage. Jack claims that these institutions reflect the wealth inequality in our nation. Although these students are top students, “the culture of money and luxury brands that infests the campuses leaves them feeling like lower-class outcasts rather than full members of the community”. Students like myself experience a change in social expectations and cultural norms, a change that makes many of us feel insecure and significantly increases our anxiety.

As someone who was an extrovert in high school and never really experienced social anxiety, I became anxious all the time my first year. I started watching what I wore, what I said, where I sat, what I ate, and more. I was so fixated on looking approachable and just like everyone else that I must have appeared the opposite as I made no friends my first year in college. Making no friends only made me feel even more insecure about myself and I remember asking myself, did I make a mistake choosing to attend WashU?

I would be lying to you if I said I have overcome all of my academic insecurities and doubts. But I know that I have come a long way from my freshman year. I have made friends who understand me and feel the same way I do. I have learned study methods that work for me and have increased my test scores and grades. I have come to terms with the fact that I will have to work twice as hard than other students to achieve my goals. Most importantly, I have learned that I am not alone.

Low income students struggle with culture shock across the nation. Many of us don’t have strong educational foundations built from private schools and private tutors. We don’t have one thousand-dollar Canada Goose winter jackets that are so popular on our campuses. We don’t have mommy or daddy’s law firm to intern at during our undergraduate career or work at after law school. What do we have? I know what I have. I have goals and the determination to achieve those goals. I have immigrant parents that I want to make proud. I have knowledge and experience in immigration that others may not have. I have more to be thankful for than I thought I did my freshman year. Money and status aren’t everything and I don’t have to prove myself to anyone on campus. I belong at WashU just as much as any other student and the world is my oyster. It took me awhile to not only say that I belong on campus, but also believe that I belong on campus.

However, I also know that not every student is as fortunate as I am. I didn’t have to work a job or two to pay for my books and student fees. Nor did I have to face racism and discrimination in addition to culture shock like I am sure countless students of color have had to face on my campus and on others across the nation. We have a problem in this country. Thousands of our students are unprepared academically and socially. Universities may be more economically and racially diverse than they were a few years ago, but they are failing their students. Culture shock is a barrier to academic success and my experience is just one of the many stories of culture shock.

It may seem like dropping and withdrawing from a class has nothing to do with culture shock, but it does. I attended a small charter school for high school. My graduating class was around fifty students. My teachers and advisor were easy to reach, talk to, and connect with. You work hard and you get high scores, the teachers notice you and build a relationship with you, they like you. That’s the way to network, right? Well, I learned quickly that it’s not. Unlike other students, I didn’t know how to build networks, how to approach professors. I thought office hours were used to ask specific questions and so I didn’t go to a single one my freshman year. Like Jack claims in his book, there is a hidden curriculum in college, unspoken expectations and unwritten rules. For example, attending office hours even though you may not have a specific question in order to build a relationship with the professor.

My culture shock experience has helped me grow significantly as a person and as a student. I lost and regained the confidence I need to reach my goal of becoming an immigration lawyer. Culture shock isn’t just experienced by some students. Immigrants also experience culture shock when they immigrate to the United States. Some may not even know how to speak English just yet. I think it is important for immigration lawyers to be an ally to immigrants, not only helping immigrants with paperwork, but providing them with any other resources they may need to adjust to America and its culture. No one wants to feel out of place, one of culture shocks worst effects. As someone who knows that feeling far too well, I want to make sure I become a lawyer who does everything in her power to prevent immigrants from feeling that way. Freshman year was on of the most difficult times of my life and I am still living its repercussions to this day, but it helped me grow into being more resilient, determined, and proud of myself. All of which I will use as an immigration lawyer to help others.

Works Cited:
Pappano, Laura. “Review | For Many Poor Students, the Ivy League Is Culture Shock.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 Mar. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/for-many-poor-students-the-ivy-league-is-culture-shock/2019/03/01/fd63ae78-2e27-11e9-813a-0ab2f17e305b_story.html.

Quotes from Eda’s Letters of Recommendation

Tasom is a nonprofit organization serving the Turkish American and many other immigrant communities here in Saint Louis. This young lady would be an undeniable asset to your program. I have known her as our volunteer member for the last seven years and have never seen her falter in anything she chooses to do.In that time, I have been a witness to a young member who strives for excellence and thinks critically; a member that has intellectual curiosity; and, above all, a member that is ethical and approaches the humanities with not only scholarship but a concern for larger global issues.” Josep Y Whitestone, Executive Director of TASOM

“Ms. Sagnak distinguished herself quickly as a star student from the first class. She is very conscientious and diligent in her work. When she has questions she seeks out the answers. She has shared with me her goals and how she plans to attain them and her drive is amazing. I have no doubt that she will be successful and exemplify the determination that you are looking to support.” Professor Jennifer Moldthan-Lorentz, St. Louis Community College – Forest Park

Jalea Scott

photo of Jaleah Scott

Jalea’s Winning Essay

Hello, my name is Jalea Scott and I will be attending Rockhurst University as a new freshman in the fall. I was born and raised in Saint Louis, Missouri. I am the second oldest of seven children and a first generation college student. I have decided to major in Nonprofit Leadership because being homeless showed me that underrepresented individuals deserve a second chance at life and happiness. My goal is to bring peace and secerinety to individuals and families living on the streets and in homeless shelters. I want my story to influence homeless individuals and people who have privilege to work together, the most impactful change can only occur through teamwork, commitment, and resources.

Unhoused: a social construct that determines my position in this world. Some days I wish I could just wake up from this bad dream and restart my entire life over again with the push of a button. Day after day, my anxiety persists every second I spend in this shelter of misery and despair. Every episode has a continuing plot twist that attracts one’s mind to tune in. Being unhoused is the villain of this never-ending series. Depression: a prolonged feeling of numbness and frustration.

When knowledge is presented to an individual, our first reaction is to figure out if we agree or disagree with the information. More than often people have biased opinions towards information that counters their knowledge. The knowledge that an individual understands derives from personal circumstances, beliefs, and or experiences. The world we live in is quite strange, we are all judgemental in some way, shape, and or form. When we notice an individual that is homeless and asking others for money, we automatically assume that this unhoused individual will use that money to buy drugs and or alcohol. The majority of the time we never consider and or acknowledge the knowledge that they have of the world. No one would ever trust or believe that a homeless person would have the experience, comprehension, and or intelligence to inform others about ways to improve homeless rates in America. I am here to prove all of those people wrong.

From my experience, new technology has organized different agencies in particular categories that help assist families by placing them into shelters and or transitional housing that fits best their situation. For example, there are some homeless shelters that only offer services to victims of domestic violence or veterans. As an African American in the United States of America, my experiences in life are different than those who have more privilege. My family and I have always struggled to make ends meet and we eventually became homeless. During this unfortunate period, we moved into a local homeless shelter. When we moved into the shelter, I noticed right away that the maintenance of the faculty was horrible. Not to mention, a local Saint Louis shelter is located in one of the most gang-affiliated areas of downtown Saint Louis. Being homeless has shown me that the world can be cruel to those who are homeless.

How do emotions and sense of perception change our knowledge of the world? Most people believe that all homeless individuals do absolutely nothing to change their life for the better. That is not the case at all when I lived in a homeless shelter, which is funded by the federal government, there were many unnecessary rules and regulations that prevent people from being accepted into the shelter. Homeless shelters are supposed to provide service to those who are not able to provide for themselves, however, the services are limited and ineffective. For example, the Shelter Care Plus Voucher simply provides homeless low-income families with a home and rental assistance for six months to a year. From my experience, I thought the only way to successfully leave a Saint Louis shelter without returning is to apply for The Shelter Care Plus Voucher.

Without knowing the flaws of the voucher, we proceeded to complete the requirements. For three months my family and I received no notices about our application process. How could anyone be that irresponsible, families suffer day in and day out while living in a place that has a constant infestation of bed bugs and lice, short supply of food, and an inevitable amount of drug suppliers as neighbors? Now, I have enough experience to understand that the federal, state, and or local government could care less about the way homeless individuals are treated. Homeless shelters are supposed to help individuals get back on their feet but they are structured in ways that make it difficult for families like mines to escape poverty and or homelessness.

Most individuals that move into a shelter have little to no income, providing for your family can be extremely difficult. While living at the homeless shelter I realized that their faculty lacked many resources, including adequate amounts of food, sanitary living areas, and security. I could not believe what I saw while living at that shelter, people eating rotten food on a day-to-day basis, people bathing in bathrooms with menstrual blood on the walls of the shower, witnessing people using and selling drugs right outside the shelter. My voice will speak for those who have witnessed the horrors of living in a homeless shelter. There are not enough people in the world taking this matter seriously, homeless individuals deserve to be heard because they are just as important as someone with billions of dollars in their bank account.

How does this circumstance influence the way my knowledge is viewed and or accepted?

Once my family and I became homeless, my personal and school became more difficult to handle. I was also dealing with constant migraines due to a previous concussion, I did not know how to share my pain with the world because I did not think anyone would take me and or my situation seriously. Once I got the courage to inform others about my situation, individuals including teachers, friends, and family started to acknowledge what I was going through as a serious matter. Teachers were more concerned about how my family was doing and how things were going at the shelter. Staff and faculty members at my school genuinely tried to offer any resources that they could think of. What blows my mind is that people became more involved in my personal life when I started being more vocal about the occurrences that took place in the shelter. My personal life became more significant to others when they learned that my family and I were going through something as traumatic as being homeless. Before most people knew what my family and I had gone through my knowledge of the world seemed insignificant to those who have more privilege than me. To them, I was just another poor black girl trying to share my silenced voice with the world, but when you hear my story you will be amazed by strength and perseverance.

At this time of my life, I am going through this confusing stage where I don’t understand what makes me happy anymore. Once my family and I moved into this shelter, my depression got worse. Most nights I cry myself to sleep; I don’t quite understand how we became homeless for the third time in my life.

My anger blames my mom but my depression blames me. How could I allow this to happen to my family? How come I wasn’t strong and or smart enough to help my mother when she didn’t have anyone else to depend on? See, I’m the second oldest of seven children; I have always seen myself as the glue that holds everything together. How can I save my family this time?
No matter how many times we got knocked down I managed to pick us right back up. During the end of my junior year basketball season, I ended up with another concussion. Eventually, I became overwhelmingly drained. I began to exclude myself from everyone and everything. The only thing that kept me going was the idea of going to college at Rockhurst University and starting my life over. I wasn’t going to allow anyone or anything to stop me from getting my diploma. I am willing to do whatever it takes to finish high school because this is not the life that I’m supposed to be living. I began sharing my story and networking with individuals to help me fulfil my life dream. I made this promise to myself: once I graduate high school and earn my Master’s degree in nonprofit leadership and urban policy and planning, I will fight to help families who struggle like mine. I would like to build my own unhoused shelter and transitional housing in a safe and welcoming neighborhood. The transitional housing and unhoused shelter would offer on-site job training, classes on how to manage your finances, and most importantly support groups to help individuals get through tough times because no one deserves to live like this.

Quotes from Jalea’s Letters of Recommendation

Jalea Scott is indeed a wonderfully impressive young woman. She is personable and outwardly friendly. Jalea is perceptive and insightful of herself and others and maintains the confidence and independence that is often not found in adolescents her age. Jalea is a splendid young woman who, I think deserves every opportunity to develop into a splendidly exceptional adult, and therefore I am proud to give my highest recommendation on her behalf.”-Chat Y. Leonard, Director of College Counseling, Metro Academic & Classical High

“Not only is Jalea taking courses required for high school credit, but he is also taking courses to obtain an International High school diploma. The IB Diploma Programme at Metro is dedicated to ensuring that students develop into an inquiring, global-minded, knowledgeable and caring young person who will help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. Jalea poses all of these attributes.” – Sharleta Williams, Ph.D.

Tylisha J. Stubbs


Tylisha’s Winning Essay

To Whom It May Concern:

Poverty. A single-parent home. Having to parent my siblings when I needed parenting myself. Going to bed without a meal. A loving grandma who helped raise me with a heavy hand. And taking care of a parent who loved me, but was consumed by alcohol. Riding bikes with best friends just to remove myself from the situation. Some would call it the “wrong side of the tracks.” I call it home.

Long before I began researching colleges and completing any college applications, I knew college was the path to a better life. In sixth grade, I made a choice that most twelve or thirteen-year-olds would never even consider. I moved from the only home I ever knew, to a residential program on the” other side of the tracks”, a program geared towards college preparation and providing opportunities once foreign to me. That program was called Boys Hope Girls Hope.

High school is normally one of the most exciting times in a teenager’s life. You figure out what you like and what interests you, and you start to choose the path your life will take. But my goal to attend college began long before Boys Hope Girls Hope, and before I was accepted to Nerinx Hall High School.

The public school that I would have attended had Nerinx not been an option for me was unaccredited, and I could not see myself there. Although Jimmy Connors, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Hank Bauer all graduated from East St. Louis schools and have all been very successful, I knew I would never be a tennis player, long jumper, or a famous baseball player.
In fifth grade, I learned from the Christian Activity Center about Boys Hope Girls Hope, a residential academic program that helps academically capable and motivated children-in-need meet their full potential and become men and women for others by providing a value-centered, family-like home, opportunities and education.

Leaving home in sixth grade was a challenge, to say the least. I was leaving everything I ever knew. But I knew that it was my first step toward the pursuit of a college education. The program offered me the opportunity to attend one of the best schools in St. Louis, Nerinx Hall. And the program instilled the values and discipline needed to be academically successful. Staff members taught me how to take notes properly, meet with teachers, complete work on time, how to obtain information while studying, and most importantly how to manage my time. Study hours were mandated nightly for two hours, five nights a week. Tutors were arranged and encouraged, and monthly goals were set with an appointed point person. This was all completely foreign to me. I had to learn on the fly.

To help you better envision the physical living situation, please try to imagine what it is like to live with six different girls between the ages 10 and18, none of whom you have ever met before, and then changing roommates -sometimes twice a year – and being managed by house parents who have only recently just graduated from college themselves. The challenges and drama was unfortunately, an all too common experience…. But as I think about it now, I know that it will certainly make my transition to living in a dorm a breeze!

The program was holistic. Each scholar is required to be involved in outside activities and annual service-learning. I learned that most colleges look at your extracurricular activities as an aspect of your personality that your grades and test scores cannot show. Once again, this notion was completely foreign to me. Although my cumulative GPA did not end up at a 3.0 when I graduated, I am proud of the progress I made each year at Nerinx, with my grades improving year by year as I learned life on the “other side of the tracks.”

Nerinx, at times, was very challenging over these last four years. But I was able to utilize my resources and the skills I learned during my six years living at Boys Hope Girls Hope. At Nerinx, academics were a challenge that forced me to work even harder towards my goals. When I found myself needing help with a subject, I had to learn to become comfortable reaching out to teachers, which is something I know I will do in college. Also, to be blunt, it was a challenge to be a minority student at a suburban, Catholic, all-girls school, where the vast majority of students came from much different backgrounds than I did. But what I learned from this experience will make my transition to college smoother.

Much like the book by Angie Thomas (and later released movie), “The Hate U Give,” at times I felt like sixteen-year-old Starr Carter, the main character in the book, who moves between two worlds. Growing up I was from a poor neighborhood with little resources and although I lived at Boys Hope Girls Hope, my economic abilities were very limited compared to my classmates. Honestly, this often created an uneasy balance between my worlds. There are a few places in my world other than being at home, where I see people that look like me.

It sounds odd to say that my attending Nerinx Hall presented me with adversity (because it truly was one of the greatest blessings of my life), but if I’m honest with myself, it was also one of the greatest challenges in my life. And I am very proud of what I overcame to not only graduate, but also thrive there and be set on a path towards college and a better life than I ever thought I’d be able to achieve.

I am attending Southeast Missouri State in the fall. I plan to major in Urban Planning and Social Welfare and hope to then attend law school. My hope is that whatever my ultimate vocation is, I use my education to change lives where I came from. I’m not afraid to say it: I want to become Mayor of my hometown, East St. Louis. I want to improve the lives of generations after me. No child should have to experience the adversity and poverty I endured. I want to use my education to fight for all people and for change in our communities. No one has control over the cards they are dealt, but they can control how they play them. Some people are born into traumatic situations through no fault of their own. I will fight so people like me will have the opportunities to do what it takes to change their situations and the situations of others.

That is why I challenged myself to overcome the struggles I faced. I knew I wanted more, and perseverance has helped me overcome my situation and succeed. I will fight to make my community a better place and to make all sides of the track equal. College will make this possible. I am prepared for long study hours, meeting with professors, note-taking in class — and even new roommates and girl drama! Bring it on, college! I have overcome adversity in the past and I am ready for any new adversity thrown my way.

Thank you very much for your consideration for the Finney Injury Law Scholarship. If you have any questions or would like any more information from me, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Quotes from Tylisha’s Letters of Recommendation

As I am sure she described in her essay to you, Ty has overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to get where she’s gotten. Yet, knowing Ty, I’m sure she has left out the unseemliest details of her background and the position she was born into. And if so, I would guess she did that on purpose. Because Ty doesn’t complain. She doesn’t blame anyone and never uses her background as an excuse. She wants to – and will – earn everything she has coming. And the amazing part is that when she does, she wants to use her accomplishments and education for good and to help others in her position. She is mature beyond her years. I cannot think of a more suitable applicant for your scholarship. Right now, the world needs more Tys.” -Brian M. Wacker, SMITHAMUNDSEN LLC

“Tylisha’s upbringing was not always the easiest but she handled all of the hardships she was dealt with poise and determination. She always has a smile on her face and ready to face what life throws at her. She seeks out opportunities and pushes herself to take advantage of what is offered to her. I wholeheartedly recommend Tylisha as a scholarship recipient. I believe that her intelligence, commitment, perseverance, and compassion will make her an ideal scholarship candidate.” -Barbara Schaefer, MSW Midtown Community Services Executive Director