Student Living In A Dangerous Neighborhood Graduated From A Prestigious College

I was a grad student, teaching adjunct classes for the local Community College. She was in one of my night classes held at a BAD local high school. She was a student there. Junior year, 16 years old. Obviously a little scared, being surrounded by college students. This tiny little black girl who barely said a peep the first few class meetings. After the 1st week or so, she came to me after class to ask for reading recommendations on a subject in the textbook. (Mid-Atlantic sectionalism in the 1850’s, if anyone’s interested.) The thing is, that was only covered in the last chapter of the book. She’d already finished the textbook. And the outside reading. In a week. While attending two other college level night classes and high school.

I made it my job to engage her after that. She asked incredibly thoughtful questions and had a first rate analytical mind. Bear in mind, this was the worst school in the city, and she lived in the worst neighborhood, and this was right as the crack cocaine epidemic went into high gear. The girl basically lived in a war zone.

I eventually asked her where she wanted to go to university, and she said: “My mom will only let me go to an all-girls college.” I thought about it and asked, “You think your mom’s ever heard of Radcliffe?” She broke out in a grin and said “Nope!…but we could never afford Harvard”.

What she didn’t know was my best friend was on our local Harvard/Radcliffe review board. (The folks who personally interview applicants in each city.) She also didn’t know about the size of Harvard’s endowment. But I did. So I convinced her to apply. Wrote her the most enthusiastic recommendation I could conjure. Even paid the app fee. Called my friend to give her a heads up that this girl was special.

She graduated from Radcliffe College in 3 years. Double major. And her mama didn’t figure out a thing until graduation day.


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