Vietnamese refugee honoring her mother

college acceptance trinh truong 2
  • Name: Trinh Truong
  • Schools accepted to: Yale, Brown, Princeton, Dartmouth, Columbia, Georgetown, Hamilton, Colgate, George Washington University, Tufts, Utica College
  • Hometown: Utica, by way of Vietnam

Background: "I came to America in 2001 as a refugee from Vietnam. I was 3 and didn't speak any English. My grandfather fought in the Vietnam War with American soldiers and was imprisoned for many years for doing so. As soon as we came here, we were in debt because the plane ticket wasn't free.

In third grade, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be. I said I wanted to be president and go to an Ivy League. Now I know I can't be president because I wasn't born here, but I want to be Secretary of State."

How I did it: "I've done so much to really brand myself and make myself very distinctive so that I would be competitive and marketable to the Ivy League.

My freshman year, I joined Occupy Utica. When I was 13, I organized my first rally around budget time in New York, protesting the lack of funding my school district was receiving. I was really passionate about it because public education got me to where I am. It hurts my heart that other kids are denied the opportunities I had to succeed. Since then, I've been the poster child for the movement and one of the key members of it. We held a huge rally this year and 1,500 people came.

After that rally I was approached by the New York chapter of the ACLU. They asked me to be on their board at 13. I was also part of a youth delegates to the U.N.

It hasn't just been doing these big things. It's been countless hours tutoring kids from one of the inner-city elementary schools, stocking shelves at the library."

Test scores and grades: "I did really well in school but to be really honest with you, my test scores were not fantastic. They were below average for all the schools. My SAT was off by 100 points and ACT was off by 1 point. It's a testament to how holistic the admissions are supposed to be."

What pushed me: "My mom doesn't have a higher education degree. She's a factory worker. She's happy with what she does but I've always wanted more for her. She's an amazing and brilliant woman, she has such a sharp mind. I can only imagine what she would do if she had the chance to get an education here. I've always understood the sacrifices she's had to make. She always told me, 'if you don't do well in school, you're going to live like me and work and work and work.' I don't take what I have lightly.

I live in the poorest part of Utica. It's an area where people lock their doors when they're driving by. I've been cognizant of the stereotypes and I really wanted to break the mold. There were moments where I was ashamed. I've learned that where you come from is very important, but it doesn't dictate where you go.

Succeeding for me is not about comfort. It's about survival. It's about putting a roof over my mother's head when she's old. The hunger for the American dream is different."

When I found out: "My first thought: I was the first person to graduate high school in my family. I got into all 11 schools I applied to."

Did you get accepted to the school of your choice? Share a photo -- and tell us how you did it -- with the hashtag #CNNIGotIn on Instagram.

First published April 17, 2015: 5:52 PM ET

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