Anwen Parrot had always been resistant to the idea of becoming a lawyer. Despite a lifetime of prodding by friends and family who cited her love of reading, writing and knack of philosophical arguments as proof that should would be a natural, it never sounded like an appealing profession.
That was until she became a College Possible coach and realized that, as a lawyer, she could work to create positive change for individuals she had grown to care deeply for: her students and their families. When Anwen graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she applied through AmeriCorps to serve with College Possible. Her role with the organization was to support and mentor 40 high school juniors as they prepared for college. Being a recent graduate herself, Anwen was close in age to her students and thus able to relate, often spending break time in session gossiping about pop culture, sharing music they loved and talking through the struggles that high school students often face — relationship or family problems.
“I’m not so far removed from where they are that I forgot what it’s like … what you feel in high school is very real for you then,” Anwen remarked.
Many of Anwen’s students were the first in their family to go to college, and their bi-weekly sessions with College Possible provided a space where they could share in their similar struggles, frustrations and triumphs. Anwen recalled one instance when her student, Mau, was brought to tears after losing a scholarship that she had spent so much time working on. Another student, Jamiya, immediately stepped in to cheer her up and provide a pep talk to motivate Mau to keep applying for other scholarships. Mau and Jamiya were not particularly close before they joined College Possible, but now were connected by their common goal: going to college. Anwen recognized how instrumental these after-school sessions were in fostering a supportive community for her students. While Anwen came from a different back- ground than most of her students, through her role with College Possible she was confronted with the difficulties many of them faced as minority, low-income students.
“[Serving with College Possible] forced me to reflect on my own high school experience and see things that I didn’t realize were happening at the time, because they didn’t directly affect me.”
Despite all of their efforts, in and out of the classroom, Anwen knew that her students struggled against circumstances they had no control over, like housing instability and concerns regarding personal safety. There was little she could do beyond listening and showing she cared. “My students and I could work around the clock, but these barriers outside of school were very real and hard to overcome.”
Anwen determined becoming a lawyer was the best way for her to make a broader impact on the community of students she had come to know and care about. With her new goal in mind, Anwen applied to serve a second year with College Possible. She would continue supporting her students in their senior year while simultaneously preparing for law school. As the new school year began, Anwen and her students went through the college application process together: preparing for and taking standardized tests, the LSAT and SAT, respectively, filling out financial aid forms and applying to schools. She remarked, “From the time I woke to the time I went to bed, I was either working with my students or studying.” After one of Anwen’s students learned that the LSAT was a six-hour test, she left her a bag of candy and a note of appreciation and encouragement in her backpack, just like Anwen had done for each of her students before they took the SAT.
Anwen’s time at College Possible played a pivotal role in determining the next steps in her career. Now attending law school at the University of Minnesota, Anwen remains inspired by her former students’ hard work and endless positivity in the face of adversity. She will use this, and her experiences with College Possible, as motivation as she works toward earning her law degree and making a difference in a field about which she cares deeply— and personally.