Jakayla Rivers, Jewel Portraits

I Went From Borderline Homeless To College-Bound

I saw how poorly people were living. I saw how poorly we were living. That’s when I realized I had to do whatever it took to not end up there.

In partnership with First Lady Michelle Obama's #BetterMakeRoom initiative, we are publishing your awesome college admissions essays -- THE pieces of writing that helped you #ReachHigher in your education -- leading up to College Signing Day on MTV News. If you're a high school senior graduating in 2016, submit your essay to mtvfounders@gmail.com with your full name and age.

My academic achievements, my athletic achievements, problems I’ve solved that make me look like the premier candidate — these are all things I could talk about in this essay. But I think the most important thing I need to share is my background. My background is what has shaped me. Once you’ve understood what I’ve gone through, then you can truly understand me. Without explaining where I came from, my application would be nothing.

I was born in Round Rock, Texas, to a mother who is Puerto Rican born and raised, and a father who is a Colombian immigrant and came to America at 12 years old. My parents split when I was a year old. Through my early years, I constantly moved between Florida and Texas. When we lived in Florida, we lived in very bad parts of Orlando: Helicopters flew overhead and police raided the neighborhoods. We weren’t allowed to play outside because my mother feared for our safety.

My grandparents always brought us right back to Texas. My mom wanted to be on her own, though. When I was 5, she moved to Killeen, Texas, to go to nursing school and left us with our grandparents in Round Rock. It was my first year in school and I was learning English. I began to excel academically. The teacher had me tested for the gifted program and I was accepted.

The next year, we moved to Killeen with my mom. The neighborhood was bad, but small, so my mom let us play outside. That’s when I really saw what poverty was. People lived on the street and made bonfires to keep warm. Kids ran around in tattered clothes and no shoes because the only shoes they had were their church and school shoes. Everyone got groceries from the church. I saw how poorly people were living. I saw how poorly we were living. That’s when I realized I had to do whatever it took to not end up there.

A year later, my mom dropped out of nursing school and said she needed us to move to Florida because Texas didn’t have culture and we needed to have our culture. When we first got to Florida, we were living in a hotel in Orlando. We lived there for two months. Then we rented a house in Orlando that wasn’t that bad at first. We lived there for almost three years. However, in those three years it got progressively worse. People with money started leaving and people without money started coming in. Gangs started to form, and even kids in my elementary school joined. But I didn’t let the environment stop me. I was striving for greatness.

Our neighborhood became gang territory and my mom sent us to New York to stay with our dad so she could move. When we got back, we lived in a house in a nice neighborhood in Kissimmee. It wasn’t affluent or anything, but it was much nicer than what we had before. But we still went to underfunded schools and had to deal with borderline poverty. We have lived here for eight years, and in these eight years, I have been able to make strong relationships with people, which is something I had never been able to do before. I’m finally able to call a place home.

But living here hasn’t changed a thing: I am still striving for greatness. I am a dual-enrollment student at our local community college, I have a published article, and I have attended a national young leaders forum. I have achieved so much despite all the adversity I have faced. Living this life has been hard, but it has shaped me for my future. It has shown me how to succeed through hard times. It has shown me that there are no excuses for failure. Now, I am ready for anything.