Nothing is going to stop Amanda Jiang from achieving her dreams. Born in New York, she moved to China to live with her grandmother when she was six months old. She was forced to leave high school there when she was 16, so two years later, at the age of 18, Amanda moved to Chicago on her own with the goal of finishing her education. With no family here and no support, she found a roommate and enrolled in GED prep at Wright College. But a GED was only the beginning of her journey.

Once she had her GED, it was easier to find a job. She worked full-time at a nursing home and started the Gateway program at Wright, which provides eligible Adult Education students with reduced tuition and support services as they transition into credit classes. As if working and going to school full-time didn’t keep her busy enough, Amanda was also a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, member of the American Chemical Society–Wright College Chapter, editor-in-chief of Wright’s academic journal Great Books Symposium Journal, editor-in-chief for the Wright Side literary magazine, vice president of the Gateway Scholars Club, worked with immigration lawyers to connect students to legal resources as a DACA mentor, and visited many ESL and GED classes to encourage students to transition to college and let them know about the programs and scholarships available.

Amanda also took advantage of many of the student resources available. “Being a first-generation college student, I knew nothing about college – everything has been an adventure for me. My advisor Malgorzata Haptas helped me so much, as did Transfer Director Susan Calabrese when I was applying to universities, and Writing Center tutor Shannon Blaha when I needed help with my college application essays.”

She also appreciates the support of all her professors, but especially Dr. Michael Petersen. “He has been so influential – he cares very deeply about his students. He doesn’t just teach you in class, but is there for his students whenever they need him. I know we will stay in touch – he will be a life-long mentor.”

A recipient of the prestigious nation-wide Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship, which finances a select number of students to complete their bachelor’s degree, she has so far been accepted to Smith College with a scholarship that covers her tuition, room, and board. She is waiting to hear back from other top universities across the country, and plans on double majoring in comparative literature and psychology.

Before she heads off to a four-year university in the fall, she will spend her summer in the Ukraine to work on an undergraduate research project in psychological statistical research, where she will investigate rates of post-traumatic stress disorder in a minority population.

Now chosen as Wright College’s valedictorian, Amanda says “I trace my motivation back to my grandma, who raised me. She was illiterate, couldn’t read or write, and struggled to communicate with others. I feel this honors her. I carry her sprit with me; she’s always with me.”

Graduation will be bittersweet for Amanda. “I’m extremely grateful for everyone I’ve met along the way. It’s not easy to work two jobs and be on my own here, but I feel like I found a home at Wright College. People accepted me for who I am.”

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