Destination: College

For some of you, college is a given. For others, it may not even be on your radar. Either way, you’ll feel inspired to take charge of your future after reading Diontae’s story.

Imagine growing up without a bedroom—or even your own bed. Diontae, 18, a high school senior in Bronx, New York, doesn’t need to imagine. When he was younger, he spent four years living in homeless shelters, sharing one room and just three beds with his mom and two sisters. “You know how, if you’re arguing with someone in your family, you can go to your room to be alone?” he says. “That wasn’t an option for us.”

Diontae knew he wanted more out of his life; he just wasn’t sure how to make it happen. Then one day, he overheard a friend’s mom talking about her college experience.

Diontae had never considered going to college—his parents didn’t go, so it wasn’t something discussed at home—but suddenly it clicked.

A college education could help change his future.

FIRST CHALLENGES

Applying to college can be overwhelming for any teen. There are piles of applications and seemingly endless deadlines, all underscored by one large, looming question: If I do get in, can I figure out how to pay for it?

But for a potential first-generation college student like Diontae, the road to college is even more challenging. These teens can’t rely on their parents to know the value of taking campus tours, for example, or understand how to fill out complicated financial aid paperwork.

Yet being the first in his family to pursue college wasn’t the only hurdle Diontae would have to clear. Where Diontae lives, most kids can’t afford college. Many need to go to work to help support their families. And even for kids who would like to continue their education, it’s easy to veer off course.

“I didn’t want to become a statistic—out on the streets selling drugs or getting into trouble,” Diontae says. “I knew I wanted to make a difference.”

DRIVEN TO SUCCEED

Once Diontae set his eyes on college, he became fiercely focused in the classroom and driven on the football field. “Football helped teach me discipline,” he says.

Diontae worked tirelessly outside of school too, earning extra money for himself and his family. On weekends when other kids slept in, his alarm went off at 7:45 a.m. He took a long subway ride to his first job at a cupcake shop, and then went straight to his second job at a restaurant. That’s 12 hours of back-to-back work. “No one really wants to wake up early and do that,” he says. “But there are certain things I want in life, and that’s just what it takes.”

Diontae also learned that reaching his goal would take something that isn’t always easy to seek out: help. There was the football coach who gave him rides to practices and the geometry teacher who—when Diontae’s grades started to slip—tutored him daily until he grasped the subject. “If I never asked for help, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” he says.

FORGING AHEAD

After years spent gearing up for college, Diontae started applying last fall. “Some of my friends’ parents went to college and had gone through the process, so that made it 10 times easier for them,” he says.

But Diontae and his mom had to figure things out on their own. They often stayed up late—sometimes until two in the morning—working on essays and figuring out financial aid forms.

How to Deal: Goals
Duration: 3:09 | Team Choices dishes out some helpful advice on setting goals.

And on Valentine’s Day, all of Diontae’s hard work and perseverance paid off when he got a call from Monroe College. It was the best possible news: He had received a full scholarship. “I was jumping around! I was so happy,” he says. “That’s four years of college paid for!”

Diontae can’t wait to start college and plans to study to become a guidance counselor for 9th- and 10th-graders. He wants to help kids reach their own goals. He says, “My message to anyone going through any kind of hard time is that you have to never give up—no matter what.”

Additional annotation: technical college

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