Alicia Harper is a 2017 Cecil E. Newman Scholarship recipient. Her scholarship-winning essay appears below.
At 12 years old I began following my cousin and older sister, who was eventually kicked out of our house. Excited to get her room, I wasn’t prepared for the responsibilities I would have once she was gone.
Before my sister left she was our babysitter when our mom worked. Once she left, I became the babysitter for our younger siblings. Basically, I became a mom at the age of 12.
When I started 7th grade I wanted to hang with friends, play sports and try new things at school. At two o’clock sharp, however, I would have to leave school and go straight home to babysit.
There was no hanging with friends or after school activities for me. Along with babysitting, I cooked, cleaned and put my siblings to bed while our mom worked from 3 pm until midnight. Although this was the routine, sometimes our mom would take weekends off and I was free to hang with friends.
When I began high school, I wasn’t academically prepared and I never asked for help because I was too embarrassed. My freshmen year I was stereotyped because I looked like a girl who knew it all but, inside I was crying for help.
I rarely showed up for school, and when I did I slept through my classes. Once in the routine of not showing up to school, they called my mom. “Embarrassing” is what she said I was. She said I was going to end up like my sister.
I didn’t care because my whole family was already predicting I would be a failure. At times I wanted to run away but I had no place to go, so I stayed holding my anger inside. People began asking, “Alicia, what’s going on with you?” I couldn’t answer because I didn’t even know what was going on or how to share it.
I wanted to do better, so sophomore year I decided to talk to my counselor. Speaking to my counselor and another support staff member at my school helped me realize I needed to do better if I was going to have a future. Having them to simply listen and let me talk about my anger without judgment was huge for me.
They helped me see that although I had made bad decisions, I could make changes to better my future. With their support, I decided to join a leadership group and the volleyball team, even though I wasn’t good at it.
My mom never kicked me out but she didn’t agree with me playing sports so when I started volleyball she let me move out and I began living with my best friend. My attendance improved, I attended summer school and by junior year my grades were better.
Now as a senior, I’m graduating and plan to attend St. Cloud State University. While I recognize that for most kids, their blood family members help them on their journey to graduation, the family that helped me to graduation are adults and friends at my school.
Without their support, I don’t know what would have happened with me. Several times I wanted to seek my mother for things but I knew doing that would hold me back so I never did.
Although we don’t have a perfect relationship today, I love my mother and I thank her for letting me go because I was able to become a better person. I’m graduating this year because education was a family “affair” for me no matter what that looked like.
Good, bad or ugly, it doesn’t matter — I made it!
For a recap of the 2017 Graduation Celebration, go here.