A Nod Farewell To A Bitter Past, He Has A Design For A Brighter Future

Life hasn’t been easy for 17-year-old Kyden. He and his three sisters were raised by their single mother who worked odd jobs on and off as she could get them. Early on, Kyden found it difficult to make friends. His classmates badgered and bullied him for as long as he can remember. Relentlessly teased, Kyden found it impossible to focus on schoolwork. Between issues at home and the daily dread of facing his classmates, Kyden eventually gave up hope of pursuing any kind of postsecondary education.

“My grades suffered because of the stress I was under,” shared Kyden who grew up in rural Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. “When I was 12, I was diagnosed with depression and severe anxiety. There were some days I didn’t want to get up—so, I just stayed home.”

At the beginning of his senior year, Kyden met Leanne Olona, a first-year College Advising Corps adviser in Pennsylvania. She immediately saw qualities in Kyden he didn’t seem to appreciate in himself. As they got to know one another, Kyden shared that he might like to pursue a career in interior design—an area of study for which Leanne knew little.

“Most students come to me to discuss careers in nursing, teaching, or something like engineering,” Leanne shared. “So, interior design stood out to me.”

According to Leanne, she and Kyden started from “square one.” Leanne looked for schools offering interior design as a degree program. She talked to Kyden about taking the SAT—something he was nervous about doing.

I want to be at a school where I fit in.

After much encouragement and some earnest prodding, Kyden eventually registered—albeit three times—before taking the exam. The pair made a list of schools they agreed would make for a good match and fit—which included identifying locations that had the diversity Kyden longs for.

“Diversity is key for me,” said Kyden, “I want to be at a school where I fit in.”

Kyden has—for the most part—decided on Russell Sage College which offers a bachelor’s degree in interior and spatial design. The school has invited Kyden to enroll in a pre-art class his freshman year with the goal of curating a required art portfolio.

Kyden’s school, James Buchanan High School, will celebrate Decision Day on May 13. Despite the barriers and challenges they’ve had to overcome, the pair is excited about postsecondary opportunities that exist for Kyden.

“Sometimes it can be emotionally tough, especially when confronted with difficult roadblocks,” reflected Leanne, who confesses her role as an adviser calls on her to provide as much moral support as it does guidance for college access. “But I tell my students, ‘Yeah, there are these barriers, but it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It doesn’t mean you can’t go to college—it just means we’re going to have to work a bit harder than some to get there. But get there, we will.’”

If you would like to support the ongoing work of advisers, like Leanne, to ensure every student is empowered to pursue postsecondary opportunities, please visit Celebrate Decision Day 2022. If you are interested in serving as a College Advising Corps adviser, visit Become An Adviser.