This is the story of why this photo is powerful. (Posted with student’s permission.)

Alayna started working with us as a high school junior. A high-achieving student, she was used to her 4.0 GPA. She was used to her leadership positions at school. She was used to her life of being a big fish in a small pond at her small high school. She was poised and well-spoken and seemed ready to take on the world.

Except digging deeper, Alayna was driven by deep anxiety that had her both afraid of failure and afraid of success. Despite her impressive resume and bubbly outward personality, she began to confess the emotional baggage she had been carrying: “I’m worried I’m not going to get into college. I’m worried about being rejected from colleges because I feel like all I am is school. I’m worried I’m not going to be able to afford college. I’m worried that I don’t know for sure what I want to study and that I’m going to make the wrong choice and ruin my life. I’m worried I’m not as prepared for college as I think I am and that I’m going to fail out and end up living under a bridge.”

OOF. What terrible stress to carry.  Alayna wasn’t alone; many of our new clients come on board with similar anxieties, and they all tend to believe they’re the only ones feeling this way. Students, you’re not.  These feelings are so common, especially if you don’t know what the next BIG chapter of your life is going to look like. For many teenagers, it feels like staring into an abyss of unknowns, and it’s utterly terrifying.

We began working with Alayna on finding more balance in her life and being more intentionally reflective about her growth as a young adult so she could recognize her wins along the way. We also worked on some strategies to help her tackle her anxieties and insecurities while also being authentic and positive in her college applications. 

Ultimately, she applied to five colleges she thought she could be happy at, and she was accepted to every one of them. Washington University in St. Louis ended up being her best fit, and she just completed her freshman year. Sure, she earned her lumps along the way like all college freshmen do, but you know what else she did that showed tremendous growth? She sought faculty mentors to continue her maturation process. She went to office hours and met with professors. She put herself out there, joined student groups, and made new friends. She even applied to WashU’s MARC u-STAR Summer Scholars program, which accepted her and paid her to live on campus for part of the summer while doing real lab research under a mentor at WashU’s medical campus. 

Yesterday, we got to watch her present her work to dozens of people both in person and online as her program came to an end. It was truly a beautiful full-circle moment to see Alayna’s debut as a confident scientific researcher. We’re honored to have been invited. These are the moments that really matter– seeing our students work through their worries, overcome big challenges, and emerge on the other side as truly confident young scholars.

Three cheers to lifelong learning and continual self-improvement, even when it’s scary to take on! (And GO ALAYNA!  We’re so proud of you. Thank you for allowing us to share your story.)