ELIYA MCDONALD

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My mom always told me that in life I had to play the hand I was dealt. When she would say this I would often become frustrated because a part of me didn’t agree. I couldn’t accept that we had to leave our family behind and move to another shelter in Tampa. I couldn’t accept that my parents could not afford a place for us to live. I could not accept others believing my family was just another statistic with no future and no way of ending my family’s cycle of poverty.

While growing up, my mom was very open with my sisters and me about the choices she had made and the choices she wished she would’ve made. She would explain that being a young mother made it hard for her to finish high school and even harder for her to consider college. By sharing her experiences with us, I realized that my mom was playing the hand she was dealt. Through her experiences, she showed us the value of education and that it could change our circumstances. It was like a lightbulb went on in my head. I could use the hand I was dealt, which I viewed as negative, to positively impact my future.

It allowed me to leave the pressure and uncertainty of my home life to focus on my future.”

In 5th grade, I was accepted into Academy Prep, which is a private middle school geared towards preparing low-income students for private high schools in Tampa and boarding schools throughout America. That environment really impacted my life because I could focus on my school work and connect with students who had the same, stressful background like me. It allowed me to leave the pressure and uncertainty of my home life to focus on my future.

Unlike other students from my neighborhood and around our country, I was fortunate enough to have access to quality education and resources. Academy Prep really made me feel like I deserved a quality education and that I could level the playing field academically. I was encouraged and confident that my life would be different from my parents. That context is what keeps me going.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I was accepted into Tampa Bay Christian Academy. After that, I will have graduated from Southeastern University as an early childhood education major, hoping to inspire other students with humble beginnings. I hope to give students the same encouragement that was given to me in the hope that they continue to pass it on. I want my students to grow up with the agency and the tools to advocate for themselves and families.

Education has afforded me opportunities I didn’t think possible. Through my experiences, I hope to show my students that the possibilities are endless. Your hand in life is what you make it.

BECOME A VOICE FOR CHOICE
BECOME A VOICE FOR CHOICE