The Struggle Makes Me Stronger
Our board was impressed and inspired upon reading Kathy Palomino’s essay. Kathy is a graduate of KIPP Collegiate. For many of us, it can take a long time to get into the habit of searching for and finding strength within our personal struggles. Kathy – through incredibly challenging life experiences – discovered this truth, and began and sustained a practice of seeking out new challenges for continual conditioning of her mind. Kathy will be attending Princeton University this fall, with a focus on international studies!
The Struggle Makes Me Stronger
By Kathy Palomino
It was midnight when we found a shelter with open spots. We went in and faced a line of women, mothers with herds of children, clothes dirty and threadbare. They looked at us with sympathy and empathy. All I could think was “I’m not like you.”
I had yet to grasp the reality of our situation. I had thought of this as temporary, a minor bump in the road like the ones before. My brother going in and out of jail and my sister running away from home time and again were all recurring things in my life, all temporary. I never had to do anything; things would always get fixed. Perhaps it was the naked malnourished bodies in the communal showers that we passed on our way to our bunk-bed, the stench of dirty socks as I lay awake that night, no longer hungry, or the constant loud noises of moving bodies that kept me awake that made me think this might be permanent.
When I was thirteen, my mother divorced my father. I did not yet understand a lot of what was happening, but I did know that the man who had hurt my brother and sister countless times and made my mother feel oppressed was no longer going to live with me. I did not know how to act, so I did nothing. I allowed my mom to struggle through everything because I did not know what to do, and that scared me. I had become accustomed to not having to worry about making decisions. I was told what to wear, how to act, and what my future would need to look like. My mom decided to just leave one day, and I had no idea how this would affect me further down the line.
I had no time to pack much: my school uniform, some clothes, and whatever else would fit in my backpack. Then, we left. That night, we found a shelter to sleep in. The next day, my father came to my school.
“Come back home with me,” he said. My throat tightened.
I remembered the dirty bodies in the shelter, the sounds, the smells, and I remembered feeling like it was permanent this time. I began to tremble. I was scared. I was being handed a way out, a way back to my room, my bed. Then, I remembered the fights, the screaming, the crying, the banging, and the beating. I remembered my mom, sitting on her bed, weeping with a wide-eyed and vacant expression in her eyes.
“No,” I choked out. Tears began swelling, so I turned and slowly made my way back to class. I walked upright, believing that any weakness in posture, in step, in momentum, would create an opening for my emotions to come pouring out. For the first time in my life, I had made a difficult decision all on my own and felt confidence in my choice. As painful as it was, I knew I was prepared to keep doing so.
After my parents separated, I was determined to decide my future on my own, making choices that would be in my best interest. I chose KIPP over public school. I chose AP courses over easier ones. I chose the LEDA Scholars program over a summer off. I choose to attend a selective college. By continuously taking the more challenging path, I have learned that the struggle makes me stronger and will help me understand and decide my future for myself.
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