Reflections of a high school senior from rural Missouri

rootEd Alliance
3 min readSep 28, 2019

by Grace Coppinger, Union High School (Mo.) Class of 2020

What makes you special? This is a question every person struggles with. In a way, it connects all of us. If you asked me this in middle school, my answer would have been lightning quick — college. At the young age of 13, I knew I wanted to go out of state and change the world. I guess you could say it was a rude awakening to get laughed at for wanting to go far away for college. Today, however, that challenge has made me stronger and more determined to pursue my dream of studying Marine Science on the coast. My progress and accomplishments would not have been successful without high school experiences, human connections, and rootEd Alliance.

The author speaks to students during the University of Chicago summer session.

High school was not the easiest for me. Although I thrived in classes and participated in a variety of after school activities, my classmates and I don’t always see eye to eye. At times, I’ve felt isolated from other people in my school and my town. It is not often that someone wants to go far away. For a long time, I blamed myself and thought I was the reason I could not have close connections with people in my community. Then, I got an acceptance letter to the University of Chicago’s summer session.

I came home and began applying for colleges. After all these years, I was finally fulfilling my dreams. I was scared down to my core.

I am very independent and hard-working, and my college counselors from rootEd Alliance noticed this and recommended I apply to the Emerging Rural Leaders Program at the University of Chicago, a new initiative that rootEd Alliance also helped to develop that introduces college life to rural students through classes and cultural activities during the University’s summer session. I lived on campus in Chicago by myself for three weeks. I met more kids in one day than I had in a year at Union. I became a better version of myself. Outgoing, lively, hardworking: these qualities attracted a group of eight people, who I now call a second family. It was so eye-opening to not only be accepted socially but also be acknowledged for my hard work. I was one of 40 students there on a full-ride, for a 500-person summer school. Apparently, I stood out to others there as well; I was selected to be interviewed by the Chicago Tribune and was featured in an article. I am honored and humbled by the entire experience, although, like all dreams, I had to wake up.

I came home and began applying for colleges. After all these years, I was finally fulfilling my dreams. I was scared down to my core. College is expensive. In 2008, my father lost his job. He and my mother were both back in school. My college savings were used to pay off their debts. I will now rely on scholarships and hope to pay for out-of-state school. My rootEd Alliance counselor is so vital in this process of helping me apply for scholarships and figure out how to pay for my dream school.

What makes me special? All the struggles and triumphs that have shaped me into who I am are what makes me special. I appreciate and thank all who have read this essay, as well as those who have helped me get to this point. My journey is not over yet. I don’t know what the future holds, but for God’s sake, it better be an acceptance letter.



rootEd Alliance

rootEd Alliance is addressing the most challenging obstacles to success after high school for students in rural America. Learn more at rootedalliance.org