Elijah's College Tuition

Dear Everyone,

Thank you for listening to my story, and for considering helping me raise the funds I need to attend college. I have worked hard, graduated from one of the best high schools in the country, and am excited more than I can say that I have been accepted at a premier college -- Ithaca College in New York.  I hope you will consider helping me raise the funds to attend.

I was born on August 19, 1997 to a 19 year old mother and a 20-year-old father in Prince George’s county Maryland. My father, who already had another child, was away. My teenage mother learned the hard way that it is not easy raising a child alone.

When I was a young child, I mostly lived with my mother and my grandmother. I moved around a lot in the Maryland area because my mother was not financially self-supporting. We could not stay in the same place for long or ever live “comfortably.” Relocating every couple of years meant that I had to keep changing schools and trying to make new friends. The moving around made it hard for me to maintain close friendships at that age, as you might imagine. I had no choice but to learn how to be safe, feel safe, be productive and make myself comfortable with being alone while my mom was at work. I had a key to my apartment at age five so I could let myself in after school when I got off the bus. I would say that this lifestyle made me very independent at an early age. Even though it was tough being alone so much at a young age, the experience has served me well in my life today.  I am sure my family, friends and teachers would affirm my self-sufficiency and self-starter character.

After growing up in four elementary schools, I moved again over the summer before starting middle school. I was optimistic for me and my Mom. The new neighborhood seemed like it would work out well for us. I was doing well in school and making friends. And I was growing fast – like ultimately 6 feet five inches tall fast. Not surprisingly, I guess, I met a friend who figured I should start using my size to an advantage. He asked me to come out and play for his father's youth league football team. My life would never be the same, but not because I turned out to be the world’s best football player!

So I went out for the youth league football team and played my eighth grade year. At the end of that year, my friend’s dad – my coach – asked my mother if she wanted to send me to an elite private high school in Washington, D.C., Sidwell Friends School, one of the academically highest rated high schools in the country. My coach believed I had the potential to attend Sidwell (a school full of smart kids like me but not so many big kids who could also play football!). I don’t know if my Mom realized that this was a school that Presidents, such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, sent their kids to attend school.  In any event, Mom was fearful that this would be too challenging a transition for me, so she turned it down. But some things are meant to be.

I began high school as a freshman at Largo High School in Prince George's County in Maryland. This was not a good or safe school for me, anyway you might look at it. I played football again that year for my friend’s dad and at the end of the season we talked once again about the possibility of me going to Sidwell Friends School for my sophomore year.

The timing was right. Life was as safe and secure as it had ever been. My mom had a good job and a solid source of income, and my family life was the most stable it has been in a long time. I entered Sidwell Friends School my sophomore year of school, and what an amazing turn of life this has meant for me.

Football preseason started in late August. This is when I started making the long commute from my home to school everyday. Waking up at 6:00 to be at school by 8:00 and not getting home until about 8-9 at night was very strenuous. I knew that this would not be easy. It gave me a chance to meet new people before the school year started in September. And once it did, I felt most welcome and comfortable at this new school. I was blown away with how supportive everyone was and the how much everyone stressed the importance of being academically successful. However, that first year at Sidwell was the most challenging academic year of my life! But instead of running from the challenge, I embraced it. I felt comfortable enough to know that, if I struggled, my friends and teachers would be there to support me. And they were.

Going to Sidwell, and the people whom I met while attending Sidwell, not only helped me become a better student, but a better person. I joined the Black Student Union and attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (the second year as a peer facilitator) and these two opportunities were instrumental in the discovery of myself and what kind of person I wanted to be as a black man.

In the summer between my sophomore and junior years at Sidwell, my home situation changed.  In July 2013, my Mom gave birth to my baby brother, Ryeli. He changed my life in good and challenging ways. I cannot tell you how wonderful it has been to have a baby brother. He is priceless to me. But of course Ryeli’s arrival meant an increase in my Mom’s cost of living.  But while our household costs increased, my Mom’s income did not. We had to downsize from a town house to an apartment before my senior year started. My Mom, as always, works incredibly hard to support us and take care of us, and we have been able to make it as hard as it has been.  I have learned how to balance a baby on one knee and a schoolbook on the other.

I will not bore you with the story of college applications. I am sure you all already know from your own friends and experiences with your kids. What I want to say is that I was so excited when I learned I had been accepted to Ithaca College in New York, and indeed had been accepted into my program of choice, the Health Science and Human Performance Pre-Professional program. I was both excited and proud.  I was going to be the first in my family to attend college. I knew how important this would be to my parents and my brother, Ryeli. I knew that so many opportunities would open up if this happened for me -- better jobs, better connections, and an incredible opportunity to build a successful life and take care of my family. More than I can express, I want to be in a position that allows me to make sure my younger brother doesn’t have to struggle as much as I did growing up. So that he can grow up in a consistent household where he always has a group of people to support him. I don’t want my mother to have to continue working as much as she does. With a great job after attending Ithaca College, I will be able to help my Mom and thank her for everything she has done for me.

Ithaca has everything that I have dreamed about for a university for me. It is a perfect size, and in a great location. It is tightly integrated with Cornell University, one of the finest in the country. And Ithaca College excels in my academic area of greatest interest, Health Sciences and Music. Those are all school attributes that I loved from a distance, as you can tell -- but after my visit to the school on admitted student day, I truly fell in love. The campus, the community, and the class structure all seemed perfect for me. I felt inside that I belonged here.

And then my dream bubble popped.  When I received the financial aid package, I noticed immediately that something was wrong.  I did not receive anything close to the financial aid that everyone expected that I would receive given that Mom had no ability to contribute. Apparently, one of the financial forms I needed, called the “CSS Profile,” was missing from my financial aid applications.   By the time I realized that my college financial aid applications were missing a key document, it was too late. The deadlines had long since passed and it was only a week before the deadline for paying college acceptance deposits. So, I now face a dilemma. For me to attend Ithaca College, my mother would have to spend over 90% of her income to help me attend, and obviously that is not possible. Unless I am able to raise $35,000, I will not be able to attend Ithaca College.  But if I can raise enough money to get through this school year, I am confident that I will be able to get more scholarship money and earn enough on my own to make it through in the next three years.

Thank you for taking the time to learn more about me, and for considering investing in my future.  I appreciate it more than I can say, and so does my Mom.


Eli Potts


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