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I’d begun stockpiling daydreams ever since I received the email back in February notifying me of my acceptance into the DukeEngage Boston program. Imaginations of playing spikeball in Boston Common, going on duck boat tours, being immersed in a nonprofit environment striving for purposes and values I personally subscribed to, sharing everything from what happened at work to the latest funny TikTok with my cohort of fellow students, and most of all, sinking my teeth into some world-famous lobster rolls. However, as COVID-19 started to spread across the country the following weeks, I was forced to quickly scale back those expectations and accept that factors outside of my control would drastically alter what my summer internship would look like.


But some things haven’t changed. I’m still me. My convictions for pursuing this opportunity are still the same. As someone who has moved homes seven times in my (admittedly, short) lifetime, I’ve befriended many people from a wide variety of backgrounds under a wide variety of socioeconomic circumstances. I’ve attended schools where the vast majority of students were children of non-white migrant farmers. I’ve also attended schools where it seemed like Ralph Lauren and Urban Outfitters seemed to be the default uniform despite a lack of dress code. And although some may question the validity of my sample size, through many late-night Facetimes with those I’ve remained in close contact with, I’ve noticed a clear correlation between their current outcomes and the environments they were educated in. Of course, this may seem like an obvious conclusion: schools with less funding and resources will consistently have higher dropout rates and lower college matriculation rates, especially to institutions touted as prestigious. On a surface level, sure, but what can be inferred from that has raised numerous questions for me internally. In a culture that’s so fixated on image and reputation, it’s become disturbingly easy for people to make snap assumptions about someone based upon their alma mater, their job title, their net worth, and the company they keep. And yet, pretty much none of those factors are in any way solely determined by personal characteristics such as attitude or intelligence. Speaking from a personal standpoint, never in any of my friend groups have I ever considered myself the most knowledgeable person, the most artistically inclined, the most curious, the most driven, or the most selfless. Despite all of that, somehow I’m here.


I speak with absolutely no hesitation that where I am at today, being able to attend Duke and having access to so many mentors who have helped me shape my identity, is largely due to my family finally settling down in San Diego after becoming financially stable. I was exposed to incredibly supportive teachers, well-funded extracurricular programs, and countless opportunities to express my different interests. But this is certainly not the case for every student in America. The disparities in education funding from city to city, as well as the existence of inflexible curriculums perpetually limit the potential of individuals. As such, I was especially drawn to LearnLaunch, where I am interning virtually this summer. Their focus on ensuring equitable education and supporting personalized learning via innovation and technology attuned to the needs of each student align with my desire to see reform in the classroom. For me, COVID has made me rein in my expectations of the impact I can have this summer to serve others.  For many others, the circumstances of their birth make them rein in their expectations of how effort can translate into prosperity. The difference is that a pandemic is not something we have necessarily control over, but the systemic barriers in education certainly do have a solution somewhere, and I firmly believe it will be in the realm of technology.