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Youth Voices: Rohjanae Mathis

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Rohjanae Mathis is a rising senior at D.C.'s Coolidge High School.
Rohjanae Mathis is a rising senior at D.C.'s Coolidge High School.

Dreams don't always come true, and for commentator Rohjanae Mathis, that's a lesson she's just now learning as she gets ready to leave behind her childhood friends to head off to college.

When we were younger, all of my friends wanted to become lawyers, doctors or veterinarians. Everyone had big dreams, the kind of dreams that require years of college and maybe even grad school.

I'm excited as I head to college, but only a few of my friends will be doing the same.

I've spent hours online researching schools, participating in campus tours, pricing laptops and finding decorations for my new dorm, but most of my friends are spending their time getting ready for the next party. They either dropped out of high school or are three grades behind.

We were all now supposed to be getting ready to go to college together, but I can count on one hand my childhood friends who'll be doing that.

If you think of us as flowers, where you're planted affects how you grow and whether you bloom. As I look around my neighborhood, I'm not surprised that many of us never got a chance to blossom.

So many parents are on drugs or just don't care whether their children get an education or not, let alone a college degree. So their kids -- my friends -- don't care either. They cut school, use and sell drugs, and are in and out of jail.

Many already have children. That's normal in my neighborhood.

Some of my friends have tried to talk me out of going to college. They want me to stay, and scratch out a living with them. I think they realize they're stuck and it's hard to see someone else succeed when your own dreams of success have disappeared.

I'm not the most privileged person. I'm from a middle class family, and while we're not wealthy, I do have the things that matter: a family who supports and cares for me, good role models and a little more financial security than most of my friends.

I also knew I would go to college, no matter what. When I started high school, I left the neighborhood and traveled nearly an hour across town to go to a better school. My friends stayed in the neighborhood high school.

Growing up, I never wanted to accept that having more money or a stable family would be the difference between succeeding or not. I thought we all had an equal shot at success.

I now know that's not true.

It saddens me to realize I’ll be leaving behind so many of my friends. I always knew dreams can change, but I didn't realize how easily they could disappear.

I'm one of the lucky few. I'm still pursuing my childhood dreams.

Rohjanae participates in WAMU's Youth Voices program in partnership with Youth Radio and D.C.'s Latin American Youth Center. She's a recent graduate of D.C.'s Coolidge High School.

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