(Elaine Thompson/AP)

Coaches and teachers at my urban high school encourage the student athletes to place academics above athletics. Now that I have just begun my second semester at Columbia, I realize how important academics are to my future success. Thankfully, my coaches at my high school were as impressed with my straight “A’s,” as they were with my touchdowns. My school’s commitment to academic success, as well as my own, helped make my 4.1 GPA possible.

When college started, I soon realized how important the Advanced Placement and early college classes I took at Friendship Collegiate Academy were in preparing me for academic success at college. Also important was the belief that I could succeed.

Occasionally, I pause to reflect that my future might have been much different without that emphasis on academic success. Aware of the lengths to which some unscrupulous recruiters and boosters go to sign highly skilled players, our coaches carefully guarded and guided us through the process. When we toured colleges and met with athletic officials, our coaches were there to watch out for our best interests.

My coaches and teachers constantly reminded me that earning a degree, and having a career outside of sports, was why I was going to college. The chance to play a sport I love a little longer was an added benefit.

Academically, my school’s approach to recruiting enabled me to save time for my studies, and for thinking through the choices that I had to make about which college offer to accept. I was able to turn down the volume and focus on what was important to me. I could weigh my offers from Yale and Princeton, as well as other colleges, before making my choice. I also know that my decision was the one I thought was best for me, period. I wish every student going through this process had this benefit.

I was fortunate to attend Friendship’s Public Charter School’s Collegiate Academy. Unlike so many high schools in the surrounding area, it has a 96 percent graduation rate—and 100 percent of its graduating class accepted to college. The high school graduation rate for D.C. Public Schools is only 73 percent; in Ward 7, where Collegiate is located, it is significantly lower than that. My high school helped make my journey to Columbia possible, just as I believe that becoming a Columbia graduate will make the next stage of my journey more rewarding, opening up new career possibilities.

My advice to students embarking on the journey that I have begun is this: Don’t let the circumstances that you are in determine the circumstances that you will be in. And believe you can succeed.

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