The ruminations of a teenage college applicant can often sound callow. But not always. As many a college essay proves, such thoughts can be utterly inspirational. The same can be said of essays submitted by applicants to the Alumni Association LEAD Scholars Program.
In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the program, we have shared just a few of the many essays submitted. In this 10-part series, you’ve read of the experiences of those who come from relatively sheltered backgrounds to those who have had to deal with more than their share of adversity.
Now, in the final installment, U-M sophomore Khalif Adegeye shares how he faced the challenges within himself during high school. Now a mechanical engineering student with plans to pursue a master’s in biomedical engineering, he continues to push himself at U-M, tackling whatever life throws his way. He believes that a positive mindset is what led to him getting two internships this summer: one with an engineering firm in Ann Arbor, the other working with Google engineers. On top of it, he visited Paris for the first time in May.
Ever since I was a child, I always felt like everything I tried to do was second-rate. I was always edged out by someone else: my sister, my friends, my classmates. This hatred for being last was always sitting in the back of my mind; it was always present. I also was an overweight kid but did my best to deny it.
At first, I ignored both problems, pushing them off. I thought I would deal with these issues when I was older and that as an adult it would all come easier to me. But eventually, it became unbearable.
Everything came crashing down when I entered high school. It was then that I realized I wasn’t coming in second to everyone else, I was dead last. It ate a hole in me. I felt doomed to fail. I was a loser in the eyes of those around me, but even more horrible, to myself. With this revelation, however, came change.
I started with the weight, believing if I lost weight, I would become a greater person. Between sophomore and junior year, I lost a total of 60 pounds. But then having succeeded at that, another issue arose. I realized I didn’t know how to talk to people. So I forced myself to go to parties. I learned to socialize and I liked it, but the other kids still didn’t seem to like me. I decided if I became stronger I would look better, so I started working out as well as dieting. I put on muscle, but I still wasn’t happy.
Each of these successes alone did not end up changing my life, but the grand sum made a 180-degree difference in my personality. I was also no longer failing in school. I might not have been the smartest kid in my class, but I was competent. That fact drove me onward. I joined more AP classes to further my knowledge in science and math. I joined more school clubs and made more friends. I got to know people I had never paid any attention to previously. I joined sports, even randomly signing up for football because a friend joked with me about playing.
By the start of my senior year, I was doing so much that I didn’t have time to be sad anymore. I only had time to improve. That is where I am now. What started at first as attempts to save myself turned into a driving passion for life: a desire to keep on experimenting and to go beyond my comfort zone.
Now, I want to take on difficult challenges because I know through struggle comes greatness. In the end, I never did find out why I didn’t like myself before, but that feels unimportant now. All I want to know now is what comes next for me.
The LEAD Scholars Program provides scholarships to black, Latino, and Native American students who have been accepted into U-M. Visit umalumni.com/LEAD to learn how you can support the program and, thus, help create a more diverse campus.