Lilia Rafful is a first-generation immigrant who was brought to the United States from Mexico as a child by her mother. Because of the language barrier, her family was unaware of how to go about getting the proper paperwork for legally obtaining citizenship.
The Secretary of Homeland Security announced in June 2012 that students like Lilia would receive a special status, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA to remain in the United Status, attend college or obtain employment.
As a DACA student, Lilia ran into several obstacles when it came time to apply to colleges and finding money for college. Because she is a DACA student she is not able to fill out the FAFSA or have the opportunity for the TNPromise. Her only opportunity to attend college is to go to a school and pay out of state tuition which can be three times more than in-state tuition, even though she has lived in the US since she was 4-years-old.
Lilia marched at the Tennessee state capitol earlier this year to show her support to the state senators that wanted to pass SB-1014, which would have offered in-state tuition to undocumented youth in Tennessee. The bill failed to pass.
To make it even more frustrating for Lilia, she received a letter from a college in Tennessee stating that she was admitted and they had a program that would offer her in-state tuition. Lilia and her mom drove four hours to the university to fill out the paperwork only to find out that the university made a mistake in sending her that letter and they could not offer it to her. This did not stop Lilia from pursuing her dream of attending college.
Lilia researched and reached out to several schools and organizations that offer assistance to DACA students. She has been accepted to Trevecca Nazarene University, who does a great job working with DACA students and has received a $44,000 scholarship from them to help with tuition.
“This is truly what America is about,” said Lilia’s school counselor.
When Jontae Meadows, a senior at Hume-Fogg Magnet High School, started high school, he faced struggles most students don’t. He was practically homeless and lacked the focus and fundamental skills he needed to be successful at an academic magnet.
When most students would use their difficult situation as a crutch or excuse, Jontae didn’t. His interest in young adult fiction and love of reading helped him persevere.
When Jontae entered his junior year, he started showing maturity, both personally and academically. He effectively used his study hall period, improved his grades and continued reading.
Jontae has maintained his motivation throughout his senior year and applied to multiple colleges. He will be graduating on May 16 and looks forward to going to college in the fall.
Abdul and his family moved to the United States from Yemen in 2010 to escape the country’s devastating economic hardships. Though he was still in middle school at the time, he took personal responsibility to learn to speak, read and write English. He has always pursued the most rigorous curriculum he could successfully navigate, as he truly believes in the value of hard work and accepting challenges. Though he can readily recall many days when he went home and cried because he was teased for not knowing the English language, he never let that “roadblock” dampen his optimism and enthusiasm for learning.
Abdul is a valued member of Pearl Cohn’s Academy of Entertainment Communication Broadcasting Team, and has developed advanced skills as a camera operator, editor, producer, and director. He was nominated for a student Emmy Award for his work on “Justice,” a student-produced courtroom miniseries. He regularly creates both football and basketball television stories for broadcasts. He is an outstanding soccer player, a community volunteer, and a dedicated employee of the Capitol Tower Market, where he stocks and serves as cashier. His ability to speak both English and Arabic serves him well in his customer service-oriented job.
“Abdul’s resilience and dogged determination are well-known and admired by both peers and faculty,” said Connie Hensley, a college and career counselor at Pearl-Cohn High School. His favorite quote is from Paul Brandt: “Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon.” We have no doubt that Abdul will continue reaching for the moon!
Abdul graduated in the top five percent of his graduating class this year. During his senior year he enrolled in Advanced Placement classes and earned recognition for both perfect attendance and Honor Roll. He will attend Belmont University next year on a full “Bridges to Belmont” scholarship.
Due to stressful family situations, Sharif Ezzeir, a senior at Overton High School, faced more obstacles than the average high school student.
In January, Sharif found himself without a place to live. A teacher helped him complete homeless paperwork and file for social service assistance to find an apartment and transportation to get to work.
Sharif secured a job so he could pay his rent and was introduced to William E. Cartagena-Vazquez, a staff sergeant in the United States Army. Meeting the staff sergeant sparked an interest in Sharif to join the army. He passed the ASVAB with flying colors and will serve in the United States Army after graduating.
Mohamed Muday, a senior at Stratford STEM Magnet, has taken the ACT four times in hopes of earning a score high enough to get into college. He has participated in multiple ACT prep courses and taken countless practice tests.
Despite his hard work, Mohamed scored the same low score the first three times he took the test. When most would be discouraged, Mohamed found the strength to push himself and keep trying.
Last fall Mohamed found more incentive to try even harder with the possibility of college becoming clearer. He dreamed of going to college and wrestling at the collegiate level.
In December, Mohamed got his fourth ACT test score back. He scored a 23 which opened many more doors for him. His dream of attending a four-year university became reality: Mohamed will attend Middle Tennessee State University this fall.
On November 27, 2016, my family and I were awoken by smoke alarms and the lower half of our house engulfed in flames. We grabbed what we could and sprinted out of the house quickly to keep ourselves safe. As I ran out the door, I called 911 to get the fire department to our home as quickly as possible. The flame rose from the dog house, up through the kitchen, snaked through my brother’s room and swallowed the roof. In an effort to keep anyone else in the near community from being hurt, I frantically moved our four cars out of the garage and down the street to various places. Soon after, the roof caved in and the entire house was a multi-story furnace. The fire department arrived and did what they could to cease the fire, but it was a total loss.
Through all of these hectic events, I’ve decided to stand tall and keep rolling on. From applying to colleges, pushing myself mentally, preparing for college auditions that will dictate what I do the rest of my life, I’ve had to remain strong. Even through my mother and father’s tears, and my brother’s emotional, solemn silence, I am pushing myself to continue the journey that is my life to Broadway. To revolutionize The Great White Way, to give back to my entire family and friends for all the help they’ve given me over the years and to hopefully inspire and open another child’s eyes to their dream of entertainment.
-Ashton Harris, Hillsboro High School
Graduations for the Class of 2017 start this week! To celebrate this wonderful accomplishment, we’ll be featuring various graduate success stories here and through social media. Follow these stories with #MNPSco2017. All of the featured students were nominated by a teacher or counselor.
Here is a preview of the types of stories we’ll be sharing:
Chike Brown, Hunters Lane High School
Chike is one of ten siblings and grew up in a single-parent household, causing him to take on increased home responsibilities. Despite his family obligations, Chike chose to take IB courses in high school and will be a first-generation college student in the fall.
Markia Shaw, The Academy at Opry Mills
Markia admits that she wasn’t focused on school during her senior year, and as a result she didn’t graduate with her class in May 2016. In July, she suffered a devastating loss when her mother died in a car accident. She moved to a rural Tennessee area to live with her grandmother. Markia knew her mother wanted her to graduate high school, so she tried to enroll in the local school system. Because Markia had already missed her graduation date, she was denied enrollment. Not deterred, Markia moved back to Nashville to finish school at the Academy at Opry Mills while also working two jobs to support herself. As difficult as it was, Markia finished her courses quickly and graduated in December 2016.
William Robinson, Nashville School of the Arts
Will has been through an amazing story of identity and personal growth he continues to live each day. He is an inspiring dancer, and he radiates hope to every person he encounters. He aspires to attend college next year, and has been admitted to a number of colleges already this spring.
Kelton Elliott, Whites Creek High School
Kelton has been living with his grandparents since fifth grade. He has overcome many obstacles and has stayed focused with his academic goals. He is determined to meet his educational goals and will attend MTSU this fall.
Antonious Hanna of Glencliff High School
Three years ago, Antonious moved from Egypt to the United States and spoke barely any English when he arrived. He was originally placed in the Glencliff Adult Program because he was 17 years old and only had a few high school credits from his country. Antonious fought to attend regular classes because he wanted to take full advantage of the traditional education he had moved across the world for. He was granted permission to exit the Adult Program and enroll in regular classes, where he flourished. Antonious truly shines amongst his classmates. He is very involved in school activities and loves serving his community and bettering himself through action. Despite being an EL student, he scored seven points higher on his ACT than Glencliff’s average score.