One day last summer while I was working at a day camp… I was talking to a co-worker who was also a close family friend. “Everything is going so well for your cousin!” she beamed.

“WHAT are you talking about?” I thought. That cousin was a loser with a police record!

“It’s a shame,” she continued, “that kids these days have to get themselves into trouble for the courts to offer you a job in order to keep them off the streets.”

That annoyed me. I have never been in trouble; did that mean it would be harder than it had been for my sketchy cousin for me to find a job?

A few weeks later, at the end of August, when I came into school to get ready for my senior year at Stamford Academy I saw that, while my GPA was okay, I definitely could do better… and that could only happen if I started showing up at school and handed in my work on time. That was my wake-up call.

The next morning when my alarm rang, I didn’t burrow my head deeper into my pillows. I didn’t brood about my cousin. I didn’t even use as an excuse how far away Bridgeport is from Stamford to go back to sleep. Instead, I actually got up and got to school on time. The change from that one tiny adjustment was instantaneous. My GPA has soared. I even have a job: at only 16 years old, I am already shift leader at Pinkberry, a national franchise that sells frozen yogurt, healthy shakes and smoothies. And best of all, I was just accepted to Housatonic Community College, where I plan to major in child development.

When I was nine, my sister, who was 15, got pregnant with my nephew. I was shocked, but mostly excited I felt that I would be a good aunty to him and teach him the best. After we bought him home, I started helping my sister with him. I fed him, burped him, changed him and also bathed him. It was so interesting to watch him grow that I decided to study child development at Housatonic CC.

But in some ways, my sister’s situation made me grow up faster than my classmates. That exposure might easily have put me at risk – like my cousin. Instead, because I saw all kinds of inappropriate behavior going on around me, I deliberately chose the opposite path. Attending Trailblazers Academy in middle school was my first life-changing step. After graduating 8th grade, I realized being in a huge comprehensive high school wasn’t best for me, especially since I had already discovered that I learned more and focused better in smaller classes like the ones at Stamford Academy. But I also had older people in my life who pushed me and believed in me, “You can be whatever you want to be; you just have to put your mind into it and believe in yourself,” they said.

I notice that good things come to people who want more in life and want to do something good in life. I have a great support system: my family, teachers at school, and also my best friend, Jasmine, who is always there when I need her.

Still, for me, the best wake-up call to push me to strive for excellence “simply” comes down to heeding the insistent, real-world BZZZZZZZ of my alarm.

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