SN&R's 2013 College Essay Contest winners!

The standout winners of SN&R's 2013 College Essay Contest

Keiera Bradley

Keiera Bradley

Thank you to our second- and third-place sponsors, InterWest Insurance Services Inc. and Sacramento Credit Union.

It's become tradition: Every spring, SN&R holds a College Essay Contest, combing through hundreds to find the best.

But that's where predictability ends. Each year we receive entries that speak uniquely to what it means to be a teenager; no two stories are alike. This year proved to be no exception, with tales of homelessness, family illness and addiction.

All that and a chemistry final, too?

As we read through entries, it felt like today's teens carry the weight of the world on their young shoulders.

And yet, it's not all a bummer. These kids are whip smart and articulate, funny and refreshingly optimistic. Which, of course, just made it all the more difficult to pick our first-, second- and third-place essays.

But, finally, we did. The winners will receive money—$2,013 for first place, $750 for second place and $250 for third place from SN&R and our sponsors, InterWest Insurance Services, Inc. and Sacramento Credit Union. Read on for SN&R's 2013 College Essay Contest winners, as well as excerpts from three honorable-mention essays.

First place

Name: Keiera Bradley

Now attending: Rosemont High School

College she'll attend: UC Santa Cruz

Plans to study: Psychology

Personal motto: “What you think, you become.”

In Route

I had grown used to waking up in uncomfortable situations in uncomfortable places, so I ignored the fact that my arm was numb from sleeping in the backseat of the car with my younger brother and sister. I knew that my mom had driven around all night, because we didn't have anywhere to go. I buried my head deep inside my crew neck and said a prayer for the better. We were homeless—again.

Raising three kids, my mom had always had financial problems, but my siblings and I never really knew. As I got older, about fifth grade, it got worse, and that's when the moving started. We moved from place to place, city to city, every one or two years. I once went to a school in Fresno for two days and lived there only a week. My mom never had enough money to stay in these places because of reasons like high rent, child care and transportation. And her solution was to relocate.

Imagine being in middle school and having to start over every time you got comfortable. Every school I went to, I was asked the same exact questions about why I moved from my old school and if I was going to stay in that location this time. Soon, my siblings and I just got numb to the whole process. But my mom became more stressed, and her moods would alter daily. When she aimed her anger toward us, our relationship quickly crumbled.

I always felt like I had it worse in life. We were always staying at my mom's friends' houses or sleeping in the car at my mom's job while she worked a night shift. Every time we moved, it was just another risk of being homeless again and far away from family that could possibly be of help. We endured more nights in the car, on a couch and more showers at motels.

I quickly became stoic and less aware of the things going on around me. My nonchalant attitude became a part of my regime. My mom instructed us to not share where we were or what we were going through with close family members when we spoke to them. Outsiders, outside us four, were not allowed in on the struggle we went through. “Handouts,” as my mom called them, were not what she wanted. At the age of 12, I learned how to go around the truth. I quickly stopped trying to make connections with other people.

Despite all the change we were going through, we were continuously pushed to bring home all A's. Even when I gave up on everything, my ambition and drive only grew. I pushed for honors all through middle school, and when I got to high school, that was the same motivation that drove me to make the Principal's Honor Roll. Doing good in school became something that I knew could be permanent no matter where I lived. I discovered that by aiming for high GPAs and getting admitted to a four-year university, I would receive a strong education, and I would never have to go through the same adversities my mom had. School became an outlet for me to not only get away from family problems, but to secretly prove to myself that my whole life wasn't a fail.

Through the struggles, I've discovered that everyone has their own demons to face. Some people, like myself, hide their disabilities and use them to strive for something better, while others let their problems control their life and dictate where they end up. Faith has been stronger than any problem that I've came across. By faith, I simply mean that by believing in anything, even if it's not visual at the time, anyone can reach whatever it is they imagine.

Once you've reached your lowest point in life, you can be sure that the only place you've got to go is up. I'm sure there are more difficulties in life I'll go through, but I'll definitely be equipped to handle them. Every time I think I have it bad, I can assure myself that someone somewhere has it worse.

Today, as a senior in high school, I reside in Sacramento. Living here, I'm closer to most of the top schools of my choice. The only move I plan on making next is the one to college. But even now, sharing an air mattress in the middle of my cousin's living room with my mom and sister, I'm still the same girl making honor roll in school. I am a true example of determination. There is no limit to where I am going. Those potent, broken memories of homelessness and hunger will forever be my push. I thank God for my struggle, for without it, I don't think I could appreciate all the success. I'll continue to push myself as far as I have to go in order to achieve the comfortable life that I've always known I should have.

Haley Massara

Second place

Name: Haley Massara

Now attending: Granite Bay High School

College she'll attend: UC Berkeley

Plans to study: Japanese

Personal motto: “I believe in the butterfly effect—that is, that there's no higher order to life, and everything we experience is the result of an unpredictable and largely uncontrollable series of coincidences. Don't waste time trying to find something to blame for unfortunate circumstances—just enjoy what good you can find.”

Adventures in chronic illness

I've done a lot of growing up in hospital waiting rooms.

I don't mean literally—they've only been a fixture of my life for the past two years or so—but to me, Ensure brand meal-replacement shakes smell like dinnertime, and antiseptic fumes remind me of home.

I got sick first. It began as a stomach bug that refused to go away and was eventually labeled as gastroparesis—paralysis of the GI tract. I embarked on a diagnostic goose chase that would cost me years, thousands of dollars and what optimism I'd managed to hang on to through a typically awkward (if healthy) adolescence. Every few months, a new doctor would offer me a cure, to no avail.

It wasn't hard to live that way at first; it would take another year for my strength to really deteriorate. I was too nauseous to eat much, but I still went to concerts, attended feminist rallies—did the things I loved to do.

When my father's colon cancer was diagnosed, though, suddenly I was no longer the sick child to be doted upon. I was an adult on whom he depended. An adult who still wore Pok"mon T-shirts.

He had his chemotherapy and surgery during my junior year, when I was 17. Out of respect for him, and for my mother (a breast cancer survivor herself), I kept our family's misfortunes to myself. And as my own health worsened, I tried to maintain some veneer of normalcy. So long as I could finish my essays on time, I figured, who cared if I wrote them at home or on a hospital suite's couch?

My father's procedures gave way to secondary infections, which meant periodic emergency-room visits and months of recovery. I started getting weaker, too. But when I was designated as a speaker at the 2011 National High School Journalism association conference in Seattle, we both knew I had to go. So I prepared. It was a surreal image—me, hooked up to a portable heart monitor, practicing my presentation for my IV-needled, bedridden dad, a nurse interrupting me every so often to check on his vitals. But I went. And when I gave that same spiel to a packed roomful of high-school journalists, I was greeted with cheers.

My world has shrunk somewhat since then; my father developed another cancer, and I remain untreated. I tire so easily and can stand to eat so little, I don't have the energy for everything I'd like to do. But I don't tell you this—any of it—in the hopes of gaining your sympathy or bringing a melodramatic tear to your eye. That's just it. I have kept up with my AP classes, my responsibilities as student newspaper co-editor-in-chief and my hobbies—maybe not as well as one of my healthier peers, but as well as I could have.

My life is not a sob story. I am not a list of symptoms, however unpleasant or persistent they may be; they merely define the parameters of my world. I am a person, a person who obstinately refuses to let her dysfunctional organs turn her into a sack of potatoes on a couch. My illness may be out of my control, but it will never control me, and, if you let me, I'm ready to prove it.

Alejandro Gonzalez

Third place

Name: Alejandro Gonzalez

Now attending: Delta High School

College he'll attend: California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Plans to study: Mechanical engineering

Personal motto: “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.”

Almost an American

I have felt threatened and discriminated against in a country that I have lived in and called my home for as long as I can remember. I have experienced being Mexican-American during an era plagued with immigration debate, but I don't consider my background a burden. I consider it my motivation to work in the world I am in.

I didn't have the luxury of a completely carefree and joyful childhood. Even now, no matter how happy I am around family and friends, the thought of losing them and being deported haunts me. I am undocumented, and any day in America could be my last. I feel like that day may be creeping closer, and at any instant the life I know may disappear.

I have seen family friends get deported and discriminated, and feel that their despair may soon be mine. Despite the discrimination, my parents are willing to stay here in America for me to have a college education. How long their patience may last, I do not know. I know they want to leave, I can see it in their faces. Their enthusiasm and joy are decaying slowly. But every so often, when they talk to family from Mexico over the phone, I can see their delight unchained, glowing brightly for hours at a time as they exchange friendly stories. It brings a smile to my face.

I want my parents to return to Mexico safely one day. That is a life goal of mine, and I know a college education will help me. After venturing for America, my parents left almost everyone they cared for behind. Recently, that is why it was especially difficult, when a close uncle died across the border, and we could not be present at his funeral. Within a week of the tragedy, my grandmother passed away. It was overwhelming. My father cried, and my mother tried to appease him, but nothing could have soothed the pain of not having held her hand as she took her last breaths.

Some of today's immigration laws still deny freedoms, and I feel ridiculed. My differences compared to natural-born Americans aren't much, but they are enough to make me feel like I'm on another planet. I speak the language, dress more or less the same, go to school like any other kid, hang out with friends and occasionally go to the movies, so I'm definitely a part of the American culture. However, I lack basic American rights. I cannot get a license, a job, or any government benefits or rights, such as voting.

What hurts me the most is that I know I am smart, I know that if given the opportunity, I can fit in, abide by the laws, and even contribute to society. But no matter how other Americans feel, I cannot be treated like one. It's the law, it's a part of my life, and I hate it. But I am patient and know I will succeed in college. I know that, as time goes on, these kinds of laws will change for the better. I'm confident that one day I will gain those rights. Yet, it is difficult to be patient while others enjoy the rights I don't have.

Even within my own family, I am considered different. Not different in the eyes of my parents, but different in the eyes of the law. My little sisters have had more rights than me because they were born American. When they come of age, they are free to get a license and job without any hassle. They are free to travel to and from Mexico. I was 12 years old when I wondered why my sisters could visit our aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents in Mexico, but not me. It was difficult not to get jealous. I still get the stinging sensation, like a splinter in my heart, which reminded me I did not belong. It was the first time I realized I was different.

In short, the apparent rejection by the laws of a country I consider my own has not deflated me. I remain hopeful that one day I will have the peace of mind of not imagining myself on a one-way ticket to Mexico the hard way. I want a round-trip to Mexico the legal way, with my willingness, as an American citizen. Being a Mexican-American in this country shouldn't worry me, but it does. Many people in my position have returned to their native country to avoid discrimination, but not me. I embrace the challenge and opportunity of being American, and I am proud to continue fighting for my American identity.

Honorable mention

Name: Julian Sander

Now attending: Del Oro High School

College he'll attend: University of Nevada, Reno

Plans to study: Political science

Personal motto: “You say ‘Jump,' I say ‘No.'”

White Noise

I wasn't always the long-haired boy carrying a six-string and a harmonica, which is what you'd see today if I passed you on the street. I was once society's polar opposite: a starting middle linebacker and fullback for a prestigious high school football team.

I'd played for seven seasons, since grade school. At my peak, I only stood five foot four from my cleats; I had to find a weapon other than size to compete. My weapon of choice was fearlessness, with no second thoughts. Frequently, I would lead with my head without slowing down. And when my sight went black and the cheering of the crowd turned to a white-noise ring, I would only think about how the other player was feeling.

After seven seasons of this, however, my head had had enough. The room would begin to spin, my perception would flicker, my peripherals were reduced to a fraction, and my short-term memory faded to a blur of confusion. The simplest lectures became impossible to follow, and vertigo made select moments terrifying. Turns out that every mind-altering collision I'd had on the field was actually a minor to major concussion.

Never once did I voluntarily take myself out of the game, until I decided to quit for good.

It was a scary time in life. Doctors offered little advice, or hope for that matter, only appointments. I needed to do something, and I needed to do it on my own. I had always had an interest in music, but it was as a listener, not a creator. I remembered hearing somewhere that music opened up new portions of the brain, something I desperately needed since it seemed like I'd damaged some of the portions I'd already been using. It also worked as a memory enhancer. I had nothing to lose, and went out and bought a Fender acoustic.

I fell in love with that guitar, a deeper love than I had ever felt on the field. Football was something that was bigger than me, but guitar was something that was me. I played for hours, until my fingers drew blood and the house could no longer tolerate the muffled chords. A few months later I was so deeply interested in music, I sought out a ukulele. After that, a mandolin. Then came the violin, the piano, the harmonica, the jaw harp and the steel drums. I even ended up with a didgeridoo.

I am happy to report my mind is back to the healthy one I once had, and it is here to stay. In a search for help, I found the knowledge that there is always room for new growth.

Vincent Powell

Honorable mention

Name: Vincent Powell

Now attending: C.K. McClatchy High School

College he'll attend: UC Berkeley

Plans to study: Undecided

Personal motto: “Stay based”

Rock bottom

I never believed in my family curse. My father told me how he had struggled with alcoholism, and his father before him, but these warnings always sounded to me like Aesop's fables, too antiquated to affect me. I always thought I was different.

The day I woke up in a hospital, I knew my mindset had to change.

I never thought of myself as my own Judas, but the tubes and dials and drips whirring around me hummed otherwise. I never wanted this rude awakening, but my reluctance could not shake the IV drips that lined my arms.

My most troubling thought during this time was that I had no inkling why I had come so close to losing everything; I knew that I abused alcohol, but I had no idea where this weakness came from. Despite countless hours of introspection, I came no closer to interpreting the reasons for my fall. Failing to find answers by looking inward, I scoured the words of others. I read Camus, Kerouac, Vonnegut and Vernes until dawn shattered and my eyes stung with dead words. Their books taught me much about their ideal nature of man, but I still had no insight into the root of my problems. I am a man with a particular appetite for details, and in this case, my longing for information clashed with the mystery of humanity.

I remained at an impasse for several weeks before I saw I had an inherent lack of moderation in everything I did. I realized the same principle that led me to excessive drinking also made me listen to only Led Zeppelin for a whole week straight, or race myself into exhaustion against my brother the track star. I knew that since my natural excess molded my drinking, sobriety would only solve one symptom: I would need to apply my lack of moderation safely in order to prevent extreme indulgence. The substance abuse I had perceived as a weakness was not the cause of my self-destruction, but the product. I faced an opportunity: continue seeing this as a weakness, or use the same motivation that almost killed me to better myself.

I made the obvious choice. I am now proudly sober for the longest time in my high-school experience, and relocating my lack of moderation allowed me to accomplish things I never would have thought possible. I started writing a book and learning how to play guitar in the spare time between juggling four AP classes and performing as the lead villain in the school play. While I've invested in myself, I hope to continue exercising my commitment for improving the lives of others. I don't know whether I want to do this through politics or science, but I do know I will devote myself to my passion no matter the path I choose, while at the same time preserving my own body from the fierce drive my success would be impossible without.

Honorable mention

Name: Alexandra Magnani

Now attending: Vista del Lago High School

College she'll attend: UC Davis

Plans to study: Psychology

Personal motto: “There is no such thing as a bad day, there are only degrees of goodness.”

One, two, jump

One, two, one, two, jump. The rhythm holds constant in my head. If the rhythm fluctuates, my chances of winning disappear. There must be a balance. I have noticed that my two passions—classical music and equestrian jumping—share many commonalities. Five days a week I train and compete in English show jumping, and although I have always recognized the immense amount of effort needed to succeed within the sport, I never truly understood what that meant until I purchased Lucas.

Lucas possessed the demeanor of a child, and, being only six years old, he reserved the right to behave like one. Unlike the majority of my teammates' horses, Lucas did not cost $100,000—he was a project. We were a naive duo which resulted in many losses and constant frustration. A horse and rider are only successful as a synchronous pair. Just as a well-developed symphony executes a sophisticated melody and harmony, an experienced team of horse and rider works harmoniously.

An entire year passed as we struggled to find a balance. I would leave competitions defeated. I could never fully accept falling off, landing in the dirt and having poles from a 3-foot jump crash on top of my head. I could never fully hide the embarrassment of exiting the arena without my horse because of a fall. I could never fully acknowledge working tirelessly without seeing positive results.

But it was worth it. For two years Lucas taught me the importance of patience and communication. I began paying closer attention to details and composing methods of communication beyond the verbal. Even his smallest reactions—ear movements, breathing patterns and whinnies—provided me with information I could utilize to improve. He taught me to examine actions and motives more precisely, and I taught him how to become a competitive jumper. After two years of patience and perseverance, Lucas and I were a collaborative team capable of a triumphant performance.

A symphony is best performed when every intended detail is illuminated. The musicians must be attentive toward every note in order to achieve a euphonious result. Lucas and I had a dissonant beginning, but with more and more practice I began noticing every aspect necessary to facilitate a winning team.

Lucas' impact branched into my everyday life. I created a balance between friends, family and school. I started forming stronger relationships with friends and family by reacting to minor details and actions. Focusing on details and precision at work helped me teach disabled individuals the basics of horsemanship through understanding the step-by-step methods of the sport. Before owning Lucas, I lacked patience, but I now understand that patience is a necessity. I take pride in knowing that I trained Lucas and he trained me. Through my experience, I have become more attentive and determined. My time dedicated to Lucas lent me the patience and attention needed within every aspect of my life, in turn, creating the perfect composition.

Honorable mention

Name: Daniel Ming-Xue Li

Now attending: John F. Kennedy High School

College he'll attend: UC Berkeley

Plans to major in: Environmental economy and policy

Personal motto: “There is always a higher level you can reach for.”


Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. The five stages of grief can take years to go through. Yet when the woman so meaningful in my life completely forgot who I was, all of these hit me in a single moment.

I am preparing to leave home as the last of three children going off to college. I desire to honor not only my parents, but the strongest motivator in my life.

I remember before I even started school, my Grandma woke my brothers and me up before the sun rose to teach us how to till our tiny 8-by-8 garden. Using the fruit of this patch, we would spend our afternoons crafting dumplings or Chinese buns. Mine were consistently mutilated. My grandmother would patiently tell me how to fix my constant mistakes. At the time, I did not see the point. They were not for me; they were for the neighbors. But as I grew older, I recognized the sacrifice in getting up early to give to the community. She has a genuine love for the community. My aspirations for the future were born in that 64-square foot plot. I know that wherever I go and whatever I specialize in, I will continue to give to the community.

Now, Grandma cannot garden, and I make the dumplings. She sits beside me, still giving me advice on dumplings and life. And the dumplings still go to the neighbors. Grandma taught me that working diligently for other people is rewarding because it strengthens my connection with the community.

As I watch her deteriorate, I recognize the legacy she has given me. My family has rallied around her. For months, my father was driving his mother-in-law to various doctors without complaint. While studying, I frequently stay up late to help manage her intake of food and water. My aunt and uncle moved from China to help care for my declining grandma as I am preparing to leave for college. It is not about a sense of duty, but of abiding love and gratitude for that legacy.

As I am growing older and increasing in knowledge, she is decreasing and forgetting our shared memories. But who she is has not changed. Although she had a stroke, Bell's palsy, kidney failure and heart problems, she still struggles with her walker to carry her dinner plate to the sink. She still wants to be a helpful family member until she dies.

Today, Grandma does not know me. She may not remember that I am away at college, or even be here when I return for Thanksgiving, but I know I will continue to honor her legacy. As I grow through accepting this, I now understand the clich": It is not just what we do, it is who we are.


Name: Ariana Criste

Now attending: Roseville High School

College she'll attend: UC San Diego

My Upbringing and My Future

Bien predica quien bien vive,” my grandfather would say; essentially, to lead by example. I spent the sticky lemonade summers of my youth soaking up stories of his life, a Mexican immigrant who had clawed his way up from abysmal poverty. He recounted tales of the unforgiving streets of Guanajuato, scenery that sharply juxtaposed my reality; a landscape demarcated by strip malls and cookie-cutter homes.

My grandparents would eye me watchfully, a peculiar little thing who, under the guise of intellectual interest, watched C-SPAN. I was aware of the unappealing nature of public policy and was secretly gratified when adults were astonished at my interest. Despite feigned interest being the basis of this encounter, these days were truly my first taste of the political sphere. This soon developed into hours of stories of the homeland, a land eclipsed by the sheer power and magnitude of Los Carteles and plagued with corrupcion. Still, “Bien predica quien bien vive,” my grandfather would always sigh in conclusion; lead by example. These sentiments soon took root in me and began to reflect in my life choices. My interest in the democratic process lead me into becoming a Student Senate delegate. This mock-democratic setting only served to further my desire to take part in the real process, which pushed me into student government.

I entered student government blindly, elected into office without any real context on how the class ran or how to be a good class officer. Presented with a steep learning curve, I dove into the class, and it quickly became my world. I took upon the tricky task of fundraising for the junior class. At the time, the common sentiment was that raising “just enough” was OK, but I aspired to lead by example and show younger officers that complacency is not acceptable. Through hard work and determination, we raised more money than any class had in the past decade. My desire for constant improvement was apparent, as I constantly assumed leadership roles in committees where I created new events.

As student body president, I am associated with all the activities on campus, from clubs, to sports, to working as a liaison for both faculty and peers. Upon taking office, I strengthened the student government program by increasing its impact on the school and community. I spent my summer outlining curriculum for mandatory community-service projects for members of the program. These projects meet vital needs in our community and foster an altruistic spirit within the program. In developing this project, I endeavored to inspire my peers to go “above and beyond.” I oversaw a wide variety of projects, some of which included hosting benefit dinners for cancer research and championing teddy-bear drives for our local youth hospital. My legacy within student government is introducing this project. It has transcended our regular events, such as blood drives and canned-food drives, and helped me inspire peers to strive to better their community.

Serving as a representative for my peers mirrored the representative-democratic process, and this furthered my interests in politics. I honed in on vital networking skills, and gained means to motivate and inspire my peers. I participated in events that drew together student-government members from local schools to share ideas and learn leadership lessons. This process of networking and collaborative thinking reinforced my interest in politics.

While my upbringing was the beginning of my decision to enter the world of politics, student government gave me the opportunity to fulfill leadership roles and demonstrate my ability to lead by example. I developed crucial abilities for the political arena and worked to motivate my peers. Without the fiery youthful optimism sparked by the wisdom of my grandfather, I would not have gained the capabilities to enact feasible change or the relentless drive to pursue ideals. Political science allows me to study the inner workings of the government, and through determination, I seek to lead by example.


Name: Margaret Cunin

Now attending: Vista del Lago High School

College she'll attend: Belmont University

Folsom night lights

As I look back on my formative years and prepare for my future, I am reminded of a François Rabelais quote from my favorite book, John Green's Looking for Alaska. His last words were, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps”—and that is what I intend to do.

Ever since I was little, I have loved being in the car. In fact, as an infant, sometimes all my parents could do was drive me around until I finally nodded off. Something about the perpetual movement has always appealed to me. The car was, and continues to be, a place where the big, intimidating world turns into something infinite, and the trees and other cars whizzing by turn into possibilities. Something about being in a moving vehicle makes me feel intrepid and alive.

The car calms my nerves, amps up my excitement, catches my tears and embraces my faults. It drove me to preprofessional ballet classes, took me to my first guitar lesson, and danced with my older, twin sisters and me as we listened to the radio—illuminated by the lights of Folsom Prison behind our house. It was the vessel in which I received advice from my mother and drove past a cemetery for the first time; realizing my own mortality. The car was a friend to me when I felt as if I had none. It allowed me to blare my favorite band's latest album and helped me, sometimes unsuccessfully, relax before I performed at local open-mic nights. It drove twenty-five miles away for six years to rehearse for the Sacramento Ballet's Nutcracker, soothed me as my family dropped my sisters off at college in 2009 and took me to my first concert. The car made little, everyday occurrences momentous. I learned that I have to feel heartbreaking emotions, put my mind and soul into all that I do, and sometimes take a step back in order to appreciate the ride and where it is taking me.

Lately, my life has changed because I am the one driving now. Sitting alone in the family car and feeling my newfound freedom, I reflect upon the fact that all of my everyday occurrences have prepared me to move forward and start the next phase of my life—college. The car will take me to my own, personal Great Perhaps. It will, in the future, drive me to job interviews, important meetings, from town to town as a music tour manager, and many other life milestones I can only dream of. However, the most important drive that it will take me on at this point in my life, is the drive to college. I may not know what lies down the road or when my journey will end, but I am not afraid to put the pedal to the metal.

Because I too am seeking a Great Perhaps.


Name: David Stoeckle

Now attending: Ponderosa High School

College he'll attend: University of California Berkeley

Plans to major in: Molecular and cell biology

Personal motto: “Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much.”

Coming of age

To this day, I can still recall a time in my childhood that changed my life forever. One day in third grade after school, my aunt Jennifer came to pick me up and take me home. As a child, I could tell when someone was genuinely happy around me or when they were simply acting that way to cover up a darker, more saddened attitude. When I was taken home from school that day, every nerve in my body told me that something was wrong.

When I got home, neither my mother nor my father were there. To the best of my recollection, my mother came home sometime later that evening and sat down with me. She told me that my older sister, April, had suffered a brain aneurism, and was currently in the Intensive Care Unit at UC Davis hospital. At that point, I really didn't know what to expect. No one was sure if she would walk again, speak again or even make it through to see another week.

She stayed in UC Davis hospital for almost a year. Both of my parents made valiant efforts to spend sufficient time with both my sister and I. In the months that she was in the hospital, she slowly regained cognition, speech and motor skills. During the summer before her eighth grade year of middle school, she was allowed to come home and stay with us; and we were a family again.

In the following years, she was slowly introduced back into her normal routine. This was really difficult for her, though. She started her eighth grade year as a special-education student, and most of her old friends eventually left. She still persevered through it all, and ultimately proved herself to be unfit for the special-education program, and entered high school as a standard student.

Living through all of this was really a challenge for me as well. It was hard at such a young age to embrace the fact that my sister was now disabled and wouldn't be the same again. There was also the fact that almost everything about our life at home changed forever. We all took on a more supportive role, to make April included in the family at home once again. It took a while to get used to the fact that she wasn't as quick, mentally or physically, as she used to be around the house. It took a lot of patience for me, a nine-year-old, to stand by as she took three times as long to do most habitual things. I realize now that this is a very selfish way to think, but at the time it was a pretty significant milestone to overcome.

There was one thing about her hospitalization that really changed my views for my future, and for my educational and career interests. Every time a nurse walked into the room to tend to my sister, I would always have questions. I always asked what “that line” meant, or what “that blinking number” meant on the side of the screen. I may have even been a little too nosy; I asked things like, “Why is there a tube in her nose?” and “What's that bucket for?” Everything about the hospital made me curious; there always seemed to be someone in a hurry to do something, and that intrigued me.

All of these things, combined, made me interested in the human body. I find it fascinating how every piece of us somehow works together to form a functional, living organism. If it weren't for April's hospitalization, I wouldn't have had these interests, which led to me taking a lot of the classes I am currently taking, and also led to my career interests as a neurobiologist or psychobiologist.

I feel like there is another defining quality about myself, and it is that I am gay.

Some part of me has known ever since adolescence that I am gay, but it was easy enough to deny any feelings I had and continue with what most people thought of as normal. I even tried dating girls toward the end of middle school. There was this girl that I knew liked me, and it took me forever to finally do it, but I asked her out. The further into the relationship we got, the more uncomfortable I became. I knew that we were supposed to kiss and do “couple things,” but I just could not gather the courage to, because it didn't feel right. I eventually was comfortable kissing her, but something wouldn't let us get past friendship in my own head.

We eventually broke up by the time high school came around, and it was then that my long and silent journey of being in the closet began. Most of my early high-school years were uneventful as far as the romantic aspect of my life goes, and it wasn't until early in my junior year that I told my close friends about myself. Once I realized that they didn't judge me, and didn't think of me any differently, I was comfortable letting most of my friends know, at least the girls.

It was this past February that I finally felt comfortable coming out to everyone, and making it “Facebook official.”

Ever since then, my self-confidence has soared up tremendously, and I feel like an entirely different person. I joined the Gay-Straight Alliance of my school, and take the proud titles of public speaker and secretary for GSA. I can't say that my family is comfortable with the fact that I am gay, but I am truly lucky to have people who accept me in my life. Finding the confidence to be proud of myself for who I am has made me a happier and stronger person, and I feel ready to overcome any challenges the world has to offer.