Never have I felt more grateful to be a YES Scholar than the moment I opened my acceptance letter from Columbia Law School. I stood there staring at the letter, elated yet frozen in place by the disbelief that overwhelms individuals when their dreams come true, as I reflected on the improbable course my life has taken. Columbia Law is a world away from my home in Lennox, California. Lennox is a rough neighborhood boxed in by freeways in a forgotten corner of Los Angeles County. Poverty and gangs are endemic. Votive candle memorials to slain gang-members are a disturbingly common sight along the cracked sidewalks. Every window has steel bars on it. Gunshots and the howl of police sirens are heard frequently.
Young people respond to the stress that an environment like this generates in a variety of ways. Many, sadly, turn to drugs or crime. Others join the military in order to get away. Some cope by dedicating themselves to intellectual endeavors. I include myself in this last category.