Douglas Dennison, LSC-Montgomery

Winning Essay:

May 11, 2012
Dear Journal,

Matt is going to MIT. Connor to UT. Jordan got accepted to Texas Tech. I don't necessarily want to attend any of those colleges, but even if I had gotten accepted, I'd never be able to pay for it. Their parents planned ahead, made smart financial choices. So tomorrow, they're going to walk across that stage and into Tier one schools.

Wonder if Matt will be top 5% of his class just like in High School. You know what I'll be doing, Journal. Same ole' same: double shifts at Ransom's and part-time work at Chase Bank.

Part of me resents my mom for not being able to pay for my school. The other part feels the weight of responsibility to pay for it myself. It's not all bad. I think I might be up for the challenge.

August 15, 2014
Dear Journal,

Well I did it. I just paid for the first half of my first semester's tuition at Lone Star College. It was a huge moment, full of pride and a tinge of sadness.

"I'm so sorry you had to do that, Doug, but I'm so proud of you," Mom said softly.

She probably felt as much shame in that moment as I felt pride in myself. It was a defining moment for both of us for different reasons.

A lot of things washed over me. A little bit of the resentment I told you about before. Definitely accomplishment. But something kind of bad happened, too. Doubt. What if I'm not smart enough? What if I fail the classes? That would mean failing myself, letting my family down. It's kind of a lot of pressure to live up to everyone else's expectations. But worse: what if I couldn't pay for the second half?

Those things would all have to take a back seat I guess. My mom might not be able to help me financially, but she did teach me something that some of my friends might never learn: how to work hard. Now, working hard didn't get her very far, and that made me kind of sad. But being a single mom with three kids, she didn't really have time to pursue her own ambitions and what little money she made went to caring for us. So I guess in a way, I'm doing this for both of us.

August 25, 2012
Dear Journal,

I just finished my first day at Lone Star! It's kind of strange because it was exactly what I was expecting while also being nothing like I expected.

I had no idea where my classes were. Had to pull up the campus map on my phone. I'm not sure how kids before me got anywhere.

I had Algebra. The professor seems cool, but since I'm deaf in my right ear, his accent made me feel like I was listening to his lecture from underwater.

I also had English. It's never been my strongest subject. I get confused about where to put commas. But the professor said something to our class today that really got me thinking.

"Who do you want to be?"

It seemed like a simple enough question. I'd spent a lot of time thinking about the kind of career I wanted to have or all the stuff I'd buy once I became super successful in a field that I'd yet to choose. But those don't have much bearing on who I am. Those are just things I'd do. The question kind of frightened me because I wasn't sure of the answer. In a way, who I would be was kind of like the variables we discussed in Algebra that day. The outcomes of the equations all depended on the variables.

Because it was easier for me to reason out and because the logic of numbers is soothing, like the ticking of a clock, I approached the question the way I would a math problem. Which variables would make the best kind of person?

I wanted an unlimited and unbiased worldview. An education. The courage to accept consequences and be accountable for my actions. The ability to laugh at myself. The strength to work hard even when things are tough. And all the tools to be successful both personally and academically.

I drove away from the campus thinking about those variables and reflecting on my first day. I'd already met people from several cultures that I didn't know much about. I learned that it's okay to be outside of my comfort zone because things really surprise you if you let them. And it seemed that all the things I wanted to input in my life's equation wouldn't come without a sacrifice, even if that means working double shifts instead of hanging with my friends or using my money for tuition and books instead of getting new clothes or buying the latest iPhone.

So I'm not at MIT. But I already feel myself transforming into the individual that I will become.

As of right now, I don't know who I want to be exactly. But I know that I'm in the right place to find out.

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