“Beat the Odds” Students Represent Enormous Potential of Millions

July 23, 2015

By Ben Yokoyama, Summer Intern

For the First Lady's Beat the Odds Summit today, NCAN was charged with selecting two students from its many successful members to represent the NCAN at large. Each member organization was allowed to nominate up to two students to attend the summit. Thirty-three of our member organizations nominated 66 recently graduated high school seniors. In a random drawing, NCAN selected Bettie Elston and Dellarontay Readus from The College Initiative in Memphis. While both of those students had excellent success in high school and their futures are bright, they were not the only nominees deserving of attending the summit.

From recently immigrating to the United States to growing up in small towns with little opportunity to raising siblings and children, many of the nominees have incredible stories about how they beat the odds to be able to attend college. For their full stories and photos, visit http://www.collegeaccess.org/BeatTheOdds. Below are just a few inspiring details of their determination and accomplishments that help paint the picture of the changing face of college-going today. 

Some students came to the United States recently from all corners of the world. Many of the other nominees are first or second generation immigrants and have had to overcome a language barrier to succeed at this level. 

  • Dorynda Jeanty lived in Haiti until 2010.
  • Shaquo Bailey moved from Jamaica at age 14.
  • Jonah Kirumira resided in Uganda until he was 11, balances helping his younger siblings and his education successfully.
  • Kelly Collao moved from Peru and cares for her sister, serving as her role model.
  • Kia Lor immigrated from Thailand in 2004, and cares for her parents and her seven younger siblings.
  • Mariz Mangundayao came to the United States from the Philippines, and participated in her sport, helped by her leadership skills.
  • Bemnet Zewdie moved from Ethiopia when he was 7 to one of the largest schools in the country.
  • Lisdy Contreras-Giron is Guatemalan-born interested in politics and law.
  • Sary Martinez came to the United States from Honduras when she was 11.
  • Victoria Kwong's parents are Chinese immigrants who do not speak English.

These students take on the responsibility of helping to support their siblings by working or caring for them at home.


  • Le'Asia Foster cares for her three younger siblings.
  • Katie Mena and her twin brother are the first to attend college in her family of six.
  • Elizandra Vicente is the primary caregiver for her three younger siblings.
  • Karen Reynosa wants her two younger half-sisters to follow her to also attend college.
  • Khayln Miller cares for his two sets of younger twin siblings while running cross-country and being a leader in his school's Math and Science Club.
  • Ayriq Sims is one of seven children and loves being there for his four younger siblings.
  • Wendy Quintero plans on returning home after college to help her mother and sister.

Most students use sports and music to get their minds off of their education, but in the process, they also develop skills that they will use in life such as determination, good work ethic, and teamwork. These students excelled in athletics and/or music, and in school while facing adversity while growing up.

  • Joshua Gillespie was a leader on his sports team and also at his church.
  • Jheresa Lewis played four sports and was a member of the National Honor Society.
  • Princess'Imani Dawson received a basketball scholarship to Hartford CC.
  • Alec Wroblewski played football and basketball, and was valedictorian of his class.
  • Jerrion Joy played basketball, the piano and the drums at a magnet high school.
  • Judy Nguyen sang in the choir and was inducted into the music honor society of her high school.
  • Melanie Horton was in the orchestra, choir, marching band, and drumline.
  • Koltin Tanniehill has congenital heart defects, but managed the boys and girls basketball teams in high school, and will do so in college as well.
  • LaJhaya Orazon danced and even choreographed dances in high school.
  • Cianni Hayes speaks fluent Spanish and is an actress and singer in school productions.

All of these students are overcoming something that made it difficult for them to achieve their goal of attending college.

  • Rekeya Blackmore has gained enough credits to enter college as a sophomore while raising her daughter.
  • Jonathan Martinez works three jobs and is the first in his family to attend college.
  • Karolina Kucharski was in a foster home, but now aspires to become a teacher.
  • Louanna Brigalia has worked for her family's business since she was eight years old.
  • Nathaniel Canete was born deaf in one ear and battled depression on his way to college.
  • Colby Sites grew up in a small PA town, but is now the first in his family to attend college.
  • Martin Cabrera did not think college was a viable option, but now he will study computer science.
  • Mary Page grew up in a home ridden by drugs, but is a writer and helps others in her community.
  • Benjamin Alex Wakefield did not let his dreams get hindered and exceeded his own expectations in attending a four year college.

These students look to change the future. Every student should have the opportunity to easily attain college, and these students want to make sure future generations have safe environments to grow into successful adults.

  • Tivin Harris does not want just people to be safe in the future, he wants to become a veterinarian.
  • Kayla Lee will also study veterinary medicine in addition to biology in college.
  • Diamond Jackson wants to help motivate students in her home community.
  • Naseef McCray is committed to sharing his experiences and wisdom with the next generation.
  • Taahir Mundy is learning Lao and Arabic and wants to become a physical therapist.
  • Carlos Panjon is vice president of Think Big, a student organization that helps first generation college students.
  • Wilson Lanchipa dreams of one day running his own accounting firm.
  • Karla Palmer will study political science and international relations in college.
  • Anna Rogers was dual enrolled at a local college for her senior year of high school.
  • Maura Ayala-Flores will study international affairs and aspires to become a Supreme Court Justice.
  • Jaelle Sanon will study industrial and labor relations at Cornell University.

We are glad that our members could expose us to such excellent students, and although only two were chosen, we would be proud to have any of these students representing us at the Beat the Odds Summit. We wish the best of luck to all our nominees in college and in their careers as they move on with their lives.
 






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