A Letter from a Quest Scholar

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Next year I’ll be working at Exeter Group. And for the first time in my life I’ll have enough money to support myself and my family. I’ll have more than enough money. And it brings me unbelievable relief that the anxiety and stress that come with a life in poverty will finally be gone. I should be elated.

Yet when I find myself telling people that I’m excited about my job, that I’m excited about the year ahead, I realize I’m anything but happy.

It seems strange to me that after years of enduring what I needed to in order to get to this point, I’m afraid of taking even one step further. To me it seems that I’m at the cusp of the rest of my life.

This step is different than the one I took when entering college. I entered college, and I was still me. Despite the clothes I wore, or the classes I took, I was still poor.

Yet soon I won’t be.

I’m afraid that ten years from now I’ll look back and won’t remember what this was like. And that if I do, it will be only a memory, not the hard, visceral truth that I know it is now, but a shadow of a life that no longer resembles the one I’ve found myself living.

I’m afraid of all the changes that not being poor will bring to my life, of all the changes it will bring to me. And most of all, I’m afraid that I will be stripped of the identity that has been my foundation and my motivation for such a long time.

But deep down, despite my doubts and insecurities, I know I won’t be. I know that despite what changes around me, and what changes about me, the core of who I am will remain the same. Being poor is, and always will be, my identity. And this comforts me.

So, as my senior year comes to a close, I find myself once again pushing forward, enduring what I need to, and remembering who I am, a Quest Scholar.


I can’t help but think about the role Quest played in giving me this life. I think about Quest all the time, but lately I’ve felt the need to express how much the organization means to me. I’m graduating, both from Williams, and from being a Quest Scholar, and somehow the second means more than the first.

It would take far too long to completely explain my gratitude to Quest (maybe after finals), so for now I’ve decided to list a few of the many things I’m grateful for:

For telling me that I could go to a good school;

For showing me how;

For helping me get there;

For giving me the best job I’ve had;

For opening the door to every other job I’ve had;

For introducing me to my second family;

For helping me to give back;

For allowing me to share my story;

For endless support and encouragement;

For showing me that my identity was something I’m proud of;

For being able to introduce myself as a Quest Scholar and learn that people know what that means;

And for providing half of the shirts I currently own.

I could go on for pages like this, but I think I’ll just add this – although I know working at Exeter Group next year is the right decision for me, I can’t help regretting that I won’t be able to work in an office as welcoming, genuine, and inspirational as the Quest Office (I know that no office I find will be). No matter what I do in the years ahead, I will always be thankful for what Quest has done for me.

— by Kelsey Gaetjens, Quest Scholar alum, Williams ’13

This post was originally published on 3/15/13 on the Quest Scholars Network blog.

Discovering New Hoops: A QuestBridge-Inspired Story of Time Travel

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If ever there has been a true “coming-full-circle” moment in my life, I experienced it while volunteering as a Group Leader at QuestBridge’s recent College Prep Scholarship National College Admissions Conference. I had graduated from Princeton University just weeks before flying out to the conference at Northwestern University, and my head was filled with the typical thoughts of a postgraduate life (like actually figuring out what this whole LinkedIn business is really all about…). But, during the course of my weekend in Evanston, I found myself facing someone I hadn’t really been planning on seeing: my 17-year-old self.

She looked at me through the eyes of the bold young woman who catapulted the unwieldy“so-what-did-you-get-on-your-SAT?” question my way just moments after meeting me. She was polished, articulate, and friendly, yet I couldn’t help but sense the ripples of stress hiding below the surface as she talked with someone who had successfully gone through the process she was just about to enter.

The ripples were easy to recognize. I still bore the marks of the stress that had radiated through me back when the things in my life felt uncertain in an uncontrollable kind of way, as I waded through all of the letters and e-mails that promised I had the whole world at my fingertips — if I could just somehow strike the right chord with an unknown admissions officer out there. A pretty big “if” in the mind of a teenager.

The anxiety over test scores, extracurricular engagement, and getting that opening sentence of my college essay to resonate just right were the worries beating a steady tattoo in the minds of the College Prep Scholars who had chosen to dedicate that summer Saturday to auditoriums, boxed lunches, and financial aid powerpoints in hopes of bettering their futures. Just as I was during the summer and fall of my senior year of high school, they were concerned with checking all the right boxes and jumping through all the right hoops — while trying to make the process seem effortless, like second-nature to those so precocious and well-suited to college life as they were.

In talking with the Scholars, I became very well reacquainted with the idea of my 17-year-old self, but I could not longer truly connect with her. Something fundamental had changed; we were quite simply no longer the same person. The 22-year-old had stopped thinking of herself as a list of accomplishments or numbers on a page. She had fallen out of love with the idea of being“successful”and moved on to thoughts of what it meant to be happy and balanced and good to the people around her. The ripples she felt these days were ones of excitement and the electricity of being young — not ones of stress.

What she had learned at college was that, in contrast to high school, life was no longer about being quantifiably great. It was about finding that subject or idea or author that made you too excited to sleep. It was about being surrounded with people so quirky, passionate, and alive that they made you better than you ever were when you were “the best” in high school. It was about becoming the flesh-and-blood embodiment of the person you were on paper.

I tried to convey these ideas to the students around me as best I could, but I don’t know if I was successful — it was a hard-won sense of purpose and confidence I had gained through my years of college, one that becomes somehow diluted and hackneyed when I try to put it into words. But I still want to reassure the girl who asked me about my SAT score, as well as every rising senior out there and probably 17-year-old me as well, that the stress she is facing will be well worth it in the end. The hard work and hours she spends on furthering her education now are just the dues she has to pay for a full, rich college experience. I am so proud of the effort and passion I saw among the College Prep Scholars I met in June, and I know that big things are in store for them.

And I would be lying if I said that a part of me didn’t want to do it all over again, even the hard parts. I want to pick up that course catalogue again, exchange cautiously-eager Facebook messages with my soon-to-be roommate, and dream about all of the people I could potentially become. I haven’t yet stopped the dreaming part yet, but the experience of being at the conference helped me see that that stage of my life had come to a close, partly to make way for new adventures ahead.

In the end, I am still that 17-year-old jumping through hoops. Not everything has changed, and I might be wired on some fundamental level to always be that way to some extent. But I’d like to think that, more and more, the choice of precisely which hoops to jump through is becoming uniquely my own.

— by Linnea Paseiro, Quest Scholar, Princeton ’14