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Dear Freshman: Know Your Value

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

Leaders are not born ready to lead, they learn over time. An important part of knowing your value is learning about yourself and your community. Learning about yourself would allow you to make big decisions about your life, such as a university to attend or a career to pursue. Learning about yourself would allow you to interact with the world with confidence, especially during challenging times. For example, when I enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) as a student in 2012, I had no idea what to expect from my learning or how to pay for it. But I knew that I would do my best to face challenges, and I did. I was behind on all of my subjects: English, math, writing, even typing on a computer! I put in many hours of learning everyday and became better and better. Soon, I started tutoring my peers in English, math, and writing. I later graduated from CCP in 2015 with highest honors. The moral of the story is that knowing yourself doesn't mean you have all the answers. Sometimes, you have no answers, but you can look beyond the challenges and believe in possibilities that you have never experienced or seen before.

Knowing your value means understanding your strengths and weaknesses in order to learn and achieve for yourself and others. It means embracing your culture and what makes you different — that difference could improve people’s lives. As you learn about yourself, think about how your family and community fit within that picture. Think about how your personal decisions could impact people close and far. You may be a young person in Philadelphia, but your individual decisions could influence the world. For example, 17 year-old Darnella Frazier filmed the murder of George Floyd, which led to massive protests around America and the world calling for racial justice and the end of police brutality. Hazim Hardeman, a North Philadelphian, became Temple University’s first Rhodes Scholar in 2017 and inspired people across America.

Our lives are ours, but they are also that of our families, communities, and beyond.

As a young person, you have the privilege and responsibility to decide what you want your life to mean to this world. We have so many problems that need to be addressed, such as racism, mass incarceration, unequal access to quality education and healthcare. We need you to question why and how problems came to be, hold people in power accountable for those problems, and even offer solutions to improve situations. Remember that, in this entire world, there is only one of you. How will you use your uniqueness to make this world better?

Aminata Sy is the founder and president of the nonprofit African Community Learning Program, a U.S. Department of State Rangel Fellow, and a graduate student at American University studying public policy. To support African Community Learning Program, email or visit

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