As universities prepare to begin fall classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, freshmen face an unprecedented start to their college careers. In this time of uncertainty, several incoming Trojans shared their own stories of struggle and how they were able to overcome challenges on their path to USC.
Sarah Showich, 18, Beverly Hills, Mich.
Theater with acting emphasis
While many children look back on elementary school as a time of running the mile in gym class, learning to tell time and coming home to watch Disney Channel, Sarah Showich reflects on a vastly different childhood.
Diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy at 6 years old, Showich spent those formative years learning how to hold a knife without it slipping between her fingers and how to walk in a heel-toe pattern. She went through years of physical and occupational therapy and slept in plastic leg braces to manually stretch her heels.
“I somehow knew the muscular anatomy of my leg before I could complete long division,” she said.
Cerebral palsy is usually diagnosed around age 2, so as a child entering first grade, Showich already had four years of a typical childhood. Now, though, she had to try to understand that — while muscles and bones in the human body typically grow together — in her body the muscles tightened as her bones grew. It was a very lonely time when she couldn’t really relate to kids her age, but that allowed her to explore her creative side. She became very involved in her school’s music class. That eventually spilled over into drama and led her to USC.
I couldn’t find the magic I now associate with USC at any other school.
“It’s not a story where my aim is a reaction of pity, however, because in many ways I would not be the person I am today without my unique childhood,” Showich said. “Without finding my passion so young, I’m not sure how I would’ve overcome such a crazy chapter. I’m so grateful I did.”
She knew midway through high school that she wanted to pursue theater in college but wasn’t sure if USC was the right pick, at least until she visited campus. From the moment she arrived at the University Park Campus and met with professors, she felt like she was a part of the Trojan Family.
“I couldn’t find the magic I now associate with USC at any other school,” Showich said. “It just felt like home.”
Though there is no cure for cerebral palsy, Showich has never looked at the condition as a burden she must live with. Instead, she looks at everything she’s accomplished, despite having it. Her parents taught her to take everything one thing at a time and celebrate the little victories, and she has kept that mindset ever since.
As she prepares to start college in an age of uncertainty, Showich again applies the simple words her parents instilled in her and plans to take this semester one step at a time.
“It is so easy to have a preconceived notion of exactly what you want your life to look like, but obstacles are necessary to ground us and force us to grow in ways that we may not expect,” she said. “Without these surprising challenges, I believe it would be less likely that we would grow dynamically. They teach us the lessons our positive goals may not prepare us for.”
Eesha Singh, 18, Fremont, Calif.
While many might simply see a swimming pool as a place of recreation, Eesha Singh sees it as a place of growth. Growing up, the pool was a safe haven, but her love for the water soon turned to fear when she began to experience vision loss.
Struggling to see underwater, Singh began to swim with her eyes closed, which made her feel “vulnerable and captive” as she would knock into barriers without any sense of guidance. That led to panic attacks mid-swim and worsened to a point where the distrust of the water started to damage her self-esteem.
I often felt isolated and incompetent.
“As a swimmer, I often felt isolated and incompetent, watching others swim with ease along the sidelines,” she said.
Rather than leaving the pool altogether, Singh set small goals for herself with every swim. Instead of approaching it from the angle of reaching the other side of the pool, she focused on each stroke and reminded herself that she was in control.
“It wasn’t perfect,” she admitted. “Taking one step forward came with the risk of taking many back, but over time I became patient with myself and my performance gradually improved.”
As she starts her freshman year, Singh is excited to enter the field of biochemistry and also study topics like global health, sociology and human biology. She noted that USC’s collaborative atmosphere and balanced appreciation for all subject areas will allow her to “gain a holistic understanding of health care.”
Singh is confident in the various resources provided at USC will aide her transition into college, but she also knows how to look at a seemingly daunting task and overcome it. Rather than focusing on how difficult or challenging her obstacles were, she gathered motivation from her desire to overcome them. That has given her journey much more meaning.
“I was really stuck on how to overcome the daunting feeling I would experience stepping into the water,” she said. “But I took a step back and remembered why I used to love going underwater as a child in the first place.”
Diego Rosales, 18, Hailey, Idaho
Undeclared (leaning towards economics)
As someone who experienced homelessness throughout his childhood, Diego Rosales admits that trust was a major challenge while he was growing up. However, by learning to believe in others and expand his social network, he was able to overcome what for most people his age would’ve been unimaginable.
“The three things I often told myself were: be willing to trust others, perseverance lives inside you and never forget that, and being and staying educated can get you anywhere,” he said.
That last part is what brings him to USC, where he hopes to study economics. But it wasn’t just the academic prospects that brought him to the Trojan Family. His decision to attend was a combination of the financial aid package he was offered and the school’s multifactored admission decisions.
I am super excited to be the first in my family to see what higher education has to offer.
“They look at a student’s story and how they developed as a person rather than seeing test scores and GPA alone,” Rosales said.
Despite a less than ideal start to his collegiate career due to the pandemic, Rosales is just grateful to have an opportunity that no one in his family has had.
“I am super excited to be the first in my family to see what higher education has to offer,” he said. “Although I will be studying remotely, I feel this will be an excellent introduction to the academic feel of USC before I experience the social interactions.”
Jaylah Wilson, 17, Las Vegas
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Jaylah Wilson is all smiles heading into her first year at USC.
“All I really feel is excitement,” Wilson said. “I genuinely cannot wait to start this new chapter of my life.”
Her unconventional route to USC started with her family’s residential and economic instability throughout high school. As someone who had to help out while also trying to succeed academically, Wilson said she felt torn between the two. That played into her decision to finish high school in three years.
The hard work and dedication you put into your present will manifest itself into your future.
“I grew tired of trying to juggle seemingly two different lives: the person I was at school — student, friend, debater, athlete — versus the person I needed to be at home — a sister and daughter,” she said.
Despite graduating a year early, Wilson didn’t have to forfeit goals like being the valedictorian of her class or playing varsity sports. She credits her perseverance to her ability to maintain excitement for the future while remaining dedicated to her present.
As she heads into her first semester, she realizes that most students are in a difficult situation filled with uncertainty. However, as someone who has overcome so much, she reminds herself and her fellow Trojans that they all have the power to shape their lives into whatever they want it to be.
“I took everything in stride, grinded my way through, and here I am,” Wilson said. “The hard work and dedication you put into your present will manifest itself into your future.”