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My name is Yomalis Rosario and I just graduated from Riverdale Country School, an independent school that I attended for all four years of high school. Before Riverdale, I attended the neighborhood Catholic school for nine years, but my mother wanted more for me; she wanted her daughter to have the best education possible, so she spoke directly to the principal at my middle school and got her hands on an application for the TEAK Fellowship, an organization devoted to helping low-income NYC succeed at top high schools and colleges. I couldn’t say anything about my experience at an independent school without acknowledging the TEAK Fellowship, which struck the perfect balance of both leading and supporting me. I would not have grown into the giving, positive risk-taking, and determined human being I am today if it wasn’t for TEAK’s guidance.

The TEAK Fellowship led me to Riverdale, where I found my academic heaven. I immediately felt comfortable with the teachers, who were fully invested in their day-to-day lessons,  a dedication to teaching I had not ever seen so clearly. This kind of learning pushed me to work my hardest and, therefore, to giving my best work. (Before I graduated, I wrote about 40 thank you notes to faculty and staff who had a true impact on my high school experience.) I was quiet in the classroom though. By 11th grade, I was beginning to recognize the value of speaking in the classroom, and as I became more comfortable in the space (it really did take about two years), I shifted from the student who’s hand would shake whenever she participated in classroom, to someone who’s heart starts pounding when she’s not allowed the opportunity to speak my mind. I like to think that the heart pounding reaction is closely linked to passion and yearning to connect with others.

During my last year at Riverdale, I took every opportunity to make up for the self-isolation that lingered throughout most of my high school experience. Socially, I lacked confidence and mistook difference for separation. Yup, I had the “We are different, so we are separate” mentality, one that kept me standing in the same place for way too long. I didn’t feel comfortable and didn’t feel like I was growing, so I accepted the opportunity to spend a semester away at the Mountain School in Vermont during the second semester of 11th grade. In some ways, this was an escape from Riverdale, and yet, it taught me how to go back and turn Riverdale into a positive social experience. I returned to Riverdale with courage and thirsty for deeper connections through conversations, through diversity initiative, and through my art. The struggle made me grow.

I had some tough times throughout, but I always stayed focused and motivated. I would say to myself, “I am ultimately here to make my mother proud and to make college tuition as affordable for her as possible.” Now, I am off to Dartmouth College in the fall and my mother is smiling.

To end, I would like express one way of seeing humanity that I believe defines my growth and a big part of my identity as a learner: every individual human life is so incredibly complex that there must be something for me to learn from every and any person I meet, no matter our labels of ethnicity, gender, beliefs, ability, etc. With this point of view, it’s hard to perceive a “minority” experience as a lonely one.

Thank you Yomalis for your reflections and all the best at Dartmouth! RIISE

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