Travis Reginal and Justin Porter were friends back in Jackson, Miss. They attended William B. Murrah High School, which is 97 percent African-American and 67 percent low income. Murrah is no Ivy feeder. Low-income students rarely apply to the nation’s best colleges. But Mr. Reginal just completed a first year at Yale, Mr. Porter at Harvard. Below, Mr. Reginal writes about his journey.Click here to read Mr. Porter’s essay.
CONAN O’BRIEN might have been previewing my freshman year at Yale when he said: “There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.”
It was early May, the day before the end of the year. Finals-week hysteria was over. Yet an unshakable anxiety pressed on my chest. I told a friend about my struggle and she said, with the wisdom women seem to always possess, that it must be about going home.
I didn’t understand at first. I was excited about summer break after a hard year of schoolwork. Then I got it. I felt I had done the one thing I feared most: let people down. My grade-point average was not the worst, but I was not proud of it. As the first generation in my family to attend college, the margin of error is small. My family is “low income,” and I am supposed to go to college and excel to provide a better life for everyone back home. And the community back home is desperate for healing.
My mother was 15 when I was born. My parents were naïve, reckless and, in my father’s case, overwhelmed. So I was raised in a single-parent home. No one is surprised to hear that, unfortunately. That’s the norm in many African-American communities; in Jackson, more than half the households with children under 18 are single-parent.
Thanks to my mother, who highly values education, I found a productive substitute, burying myself in studying and reading. In 10th grade, I joined a new speech and debate club at Murrah High School, started by a classmate named Justin Porter (now at Harvard). In him, I found what I had long hoped for — a black male who could push me intellectually. The work we did gave me a depth of analytical skills, perhaps my greatest preparation for college. I also found release in writing poems. In my admissions essay, I gave the reader a glance over my shoulder — at “the process of emptying my soul” — as I composed one. [Read the rest HERE.]