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Congratulations to our 2020 essay winner...



University: UCLA

Major: Human Biology & Society (Pre-Med)

Western High School, Class of 2020


Ali's essay exemplifies the ability to establish a connection between writer and reader, largely due to the writer’s ability to reflect and express their experiences - intimately inviting a stranger, known as the reader, into one’s world and personal point of view.  Congratulations Ali, on a job well done!

2020 Writing Prompt:

“What do you imagine college will look like, and how do you know you will persevere and succeed in higher education?”

Read Ali's winning essay below

The American Dream. Ever since my family and I immigrated to the United States in 2014, I have been living MY American Dream and my parents’. My parents never got to pursue higher education, so they invested everything they have into my brother and I. Personally, I never questioned whether I will pursue higher education or not because going to college has always been an expectation within my family. I never questioned whether I will succeed in higher education or not because I know that I simply have to. I have to because I know that my parents did not drop everything they had for me to not succeed. I have to because I did not stay up countless nights for school, studying for exams, finishing projects, or working on an application for a leadership position for me to not succeed.


I have been preparing for this for the past six years. When I came to the United States, I was determined to learn English in a year and I persevered and pushed through every struggle to get out of the English Language Development class after exactly one year. Therefore, to say that I have been preparing for my higher education for the past six years is truly not a mere representation of every obstacle that I have overcome. As a result, I am confident in the fact that I will persevere and succeed in higher education because I have beat all the odds that have come up throughout my journey: I lived through and past a bomb explosion that struck my neighborhood in Iraq and I saw innocent people drop and bleed to death, leaving me traumatized. I immigrated to the US without any knowledge of the American educational system and the English language, but I overcame my educational barrier. I suffered from depression during the beginning of my Senior year because my dad had a heart attack and I lived at home by myself for a whole month, but I persevered, reached out for help, and overcame it. Whenever life tried to throw something at me, I faced it with perseverance. Therefore, with my experiences and successful attempts at beating the odds that life has thrown at me, I have the stamina, mindset, and enough grit in me to overcome any challenge that I might face while pursuing higher education.


In addition, throughout high school, I have been able to develop an extremely strong and reliable work ethic that has always helped me finish all tasks and fulfill all responsibilities assigned to me. Furthermore, throughout my involvement in extracurriculars, such as Key Club, Student Government, Cultural Clubs, and Advanced Placement courses, I have developed an extremely versatile palette of strengths, including problem-solving skills, working well under pressure, which have all helped me thrive in whatever community, situation, or dilemma I have found myself in. It is for those reasons and many more that I am extremely confident in the fact that I will persevere and succeed in higher education.


In order to succeed at anything in life, one must be familiar with what they are getting themselves into. College is unpredictable. It is unpredictable because of the various ways movies and shows have portrayed it. It is unpredictable because of the different stories that my friends, who are currently enrolled in college, share. Therefore, to say that I know exactly what college is going to look like would be a lie. However, I do have a certain vision for how college may possibly be like. I imagine college to be a place where a group of ambitious, diverse, intelligent and a little-too-competitive will all unite. I imagine college to be the place where that group of people will have a shot at cultivating their passions and working to turn their dreams into a reality. In a way, I imagine college to look like the American Dream. The profound belief that every citizen has an equal opportunity and the resources to pursue what they desire the most. Since I imagine college to look like the American Dream, I know that working towards achieving what I desire the most, which is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and preparing for Medical School, will not come at an easy cost. It will be hard, there will be a lot of competition, and the concept of natural selection will definitely play a major part, but I am ready.


I am ready to become one step closer to achieving my American Dream.

This year's Willow Tree Scholarship is now open.  To review the new essay prompt and apply, click here.

Thank you to our 2020 Volunteers


Norma Chavarin, Director, Sylvan Learning of Huntington Beach

Austin Dias, Graduate Student, Western University

Lan Anh Do, Community Member

Tam Duong, President, Technic Business Solutions

Roland Esquivel, Business Development Manager, RSM, CA

Lynna Hong, Teacher/Tutor, Sylvan Learning of Huntington Beach

Lynnsey Hong, Registered Nurse, Garfield Medical Center

Denise Law, Community Member

Anh-Thi Le, Senior Manager, RingCentral

Billy Le, Senior Project Manager, Pacific Water Art Inc.

Thao Mai, Faculty, UC Santa Cruz

An Duy Nguyen, Logistics Specialist, Los Angeles Intl' Airport

Catherine Nguyen, Clinical Operations Manager, Avanir Pharmaceuticals

JimmyKim Pham, R&D Senior Manager, Gen-Probe

Robert Pham, Chemist, Monkey Labs

Colby Sato, Senior Customer Marketing Manager, Coca-Cola North America

Tony Shrikian, Century 21, Orange County, CA

Katie Silva-Chavez, Faculty, UC Santa Cruz

Natalie Tran, Faculty, CSU Fullerton

Hanh Tran, Transition Care Coach, Molina Health Care

Danielle Trieu, President, Revive Aesthetics OC

Dahlia Vu, Faculty, Santa Ana College

Jamie Yeung, Community Member

Special Thank You


Ivy Nguyen

Ethan Pham

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