How Samantha's Grit and Resolve Got Her Where She Is Today

Editor’s Note: This essay exudes drive and determination. Against the odds, Samantha achieved great things in life. She’s a doer, not a dreamer – and perhaps that’s what separates true hustlers from the rest of us.


Going to college has been my dream since I can remember. My parents dropped out of high school to have me, and my grandparents never made it to college either. If I got in, went for four years, and graduated, I would be the first generation in my family to have a higher education.

My father left when I was two years old, and it has just been my mom and me until I turned six and my little brother came into our family. My mother has never married, and has been a single mother of two working a minimum wage job for my brother’s entire life, and for most of mine. On top of that, my mom is a bipolar, alcoholic, teen mom. The odds were stacked against me, and according to every study and stereotype, I was destined to follow in her footsteps.

As I grew up, practically raising my brother while my mom was out being an adult teenager who despised responsibility, I knew that I could not fall into everyone’s expectations and that I needed to set an example for Wyatt, my brother. I set out to achieve everything that I possibly could to show him there were bigger and better things waiting just around the corner for him.

In middle school I started doing extra-curriculars to set myself apart from other students, and was on the honor roll all three years. Although I was a serious introvert, I stove for success and was ready for high school when it came. High school was very difficult for me the first two years, because, as I said, I was a serious introvert. But I continued with sports, extra-curriculars, and honor roll grades.

By junior year I had shaken my fear of other people, and was ready to face the world. So I started looking for colleges to apply to. I had won many academic awards, was a member of the Society of High School Scholars, and was recognized for academic excellence with outstanding extra-curriculars by many organizations. I was ready for college, and up until this point I was set on going to Stanford. With straight A’s, many sports, and extra-curriculars, it looked like I had a chance to get in.

The only problem was, I just couldn’t bring myself to apply.

I sat down and thought deeply about why I couldn’t bring myself to fill out the application, and I found that I just wasn’t ready to move that far, and didn’t feel that I would fit in at such a prestigious institution. With this discovery, and my deep desire to be a chemical engineer, I decided Oregon State University was the place for me. It was close to home, a wonderful engineering school, and was in-state, which made it much more affordable.

This is the part of the story where hustling comes in. Sure, I worked hard through high school, with full IB, AP Calculus, and year-round sports my senior year. My 3.88 graduating GPA was no easy feat, but I had never really hustled to get what I wanted. School came easy to me, and being an athlete was my joy. When I was accepted to Oregon State University, it was time to turn up my efforts to try and fund my education.

My family, having no college experience, was no help in the application or acceptance process, and had no economic prospects to help me. I had to find over 20 thousand dollars a year to get the education I so desired. I applied for many scholarships, received several academic scholarships, and was offered many grants to attend OSU. The scholarship application process was long and tedious, and only mildly rewarding because many of the ones that I was eligible for were rather small.

Although I was only able to fund about half of the 20 thousand needed without taking loans out, I was still determined. I took out the rest needed in loans in my own name, and was ready to go to OSU. I had turned down recruiting opportunities that could have helped me pay for my education that my wrestling coach had offered to find me because I was already set on going to Oregon State, and staying close to home. At the time, I didn’t realize how much I would hate not being an athlete anymore, but I had already worked so hard to get into OSU and get the scholarships I had.

Then, the summer leading into college, I received an email from the Women’s Rowing team, recruiting me for their walk-on program. I was immediately interested because I already missed sports. I had no prior rowing experience, but the email made it clear that no experience was necessary, and that anyone was welcome to come and try out.

The catch was, they wanted girls who were tall, and being shorter than 5’4,” I didn’t come close to meeting their 5’6” preference. I decided that this wouldn’t deter me from trying out, and worked hard that summer getting ready and in shape.

I showed up to the two week tryouts nervous but ready to show what I was made of. With a ton of hard work and determination, I finished tryouts in the top of my group and easily made the team. I spent the following year working as hard as I possibly could to maintain my top-of-the-team erg scores, despite how much taller most of my fellow walk-ons were. I raced that season in the top boat and decided that I would return the following year to try out for the varsity team. I trained all summer, following the workout schedule to a T, and never once slacked off because I knew I had to work five times harder to make up for my height.

At the end of the summer I came back to OSU two weeks early to begin fall training with my team. Day one we had a fitness test, and I far surpassed the goals that the coaches had set for me to achieve. I made the varsity team, no problem, and have been working hard all year with the team, approaching our spring racing season. Rowing is a very demanding sport, and we train year-round, unlike many other sports.

Despite the very hard physical activity and 20 hours a week spent training, I have busted my butt to take 16-17 credits a term and stay on the honor roll (and in the honors college the entire time I have been here in college). I am going into my 6th term here at OSU, and have never once received a grade lower than a B-.

Everything I have talked about so far has been hard. I comment on many of my achievements as if they are not that big of a deal, and as though they came to me easily. This is not true in any way whatsoever. I am a Division I athlete who competes in the PAC 12 and maintains honor roll status with a heavy and vigorous course load, and any one of these alone is a great achievement that many would kill for.

The reason that I can comment so lightly on these is that I have never been one to back away from something that required hard work. When I set my mind on something, nothing can stop me from achieving what I want. When I want something, I take the fastest- though sometimes most challenging- path to reach my goals, because no matter what, you must do whatever it takes to achieve your dreams. If I shoot for the best and the highest and hardest, I am sure to achieve more than anyone could ever expect.

Over the course of my education I have realized that engineering was not actually what my life had in store for me, and I have changed my major to Business Administration. I am currently pursuing a Major in Entrepreneurship with a minor in Asian Languages and Culture. I chose to study business with a focus in entrepreneurship because after graduation I hope to open my own business. All of my life I have been told that if you do what you love, you never have to work a day in your life. I had another sit-down with myself towards the end of my freshman year at OSU and realized that engineering wasn’t making me happy, but I had one great thing that brought me true joy.

I love to bake, simple as that. I love the process of baking, I love mixing and measuring, but most of all I love the look on people’s faces when they eat what I have created. Nothing brings a bigger smile to my face than seeing someone enjoying what I have made, and telling me they have never eaten something so delicious.

With this in mind, I’ve set out to get my business degree so that I can own my own bakery. I chose to stay here at OSU rather than going to a culinary school not only because I wanted to continue rowing, but because I knew that having a degree would be very important when I graduated. I am realistic, and know that the chances of having a successful start-up upon graduation are unlikely, so I will leave school to work in a business firm until I have enough money to open my own bakery. I still plan to start my business from home when I leave school, but having a store front is a step for later in life, something that I plan to continue to work hard towards until I achieve it.

Currently I am working to study abroad in Japan this coming summer. I decided a day before the application was due that I needed to go. I am now working on every single scholarship I can find for the program I am going with, all of which seem to be due by April 1st. This has been a last-minute, impulse decision, but the time restriction only motivates me further.

My study abroad advisor was very weary when I came to her the day before the application was due, but I told her to watch me achieve what I have set out to do. In the following three days I finished the OSU application to study abroad, have started the CIEE program application that is due April 1st, and have applied to all of the scholarships available through CIEE and OSU. I am now on the hunt for further funding by looking at outside scholarships, and have set up an online funding website for my friends and family to help me out.

I have been studying Japanese since I was in the second grade (13 years) and am working on my Asian Languages and Culture minor because of this. I went to a Japanese immersion elementary school and missed out on the fifth grade trip to Japan because my family could not afford it. Now that I am older and more able, I will not let money stand in the way of me achieving my dreams.

I will be going to Japan this summer, no matter how many obstacles stand in my way. I just hope to receive enough aid to break down the cost barrier. This is a wonderful opportunity, and I will continue to hustle to get what I want from life.

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