The Meringoff Family Foundation offered its seventh-annual Meringoff Valedictory Prize, a scholarship essay competition for college-bound high school seniors.

Breakthrough New York senior Shadi (Class of 2026) wrote an essay describing her journey to NYC and how Breakthrough helped her build a community. She has been awarded a scholarship by the Meringoff Family Foundation that will go towards her enrollment at Columbia University this fall.

“In receiving this award, I felt celebrated and recognized. Breakthrough New York has truly been an amazing help and I’m glad I was able to convey my gratitude to BTNY through this essay,” Shadi says. Read her essay below!

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As I celebrate entering the 2026 class of Columbia, wrapping up my time at Columbia Secondary School, and working as a part-time clinical technician at Columbia Irving Medical Center, I took some time to reflect on how I got here.

It all started when I first moved to New York City. When I first came to the big city, my family and I were low-income immigrants with no connections. I had no friends, no community, no residence, new rules, and a whole new state to adjust to. In that transition, Breakthrough New York literally introduced my family and I to NYC. I was thrown into the NYC high school examination system for placement, and they helped me adjust to this admission process, they told me where the good schools were, and they provided the inside information. BTNY helped me find programs and became a community I could rely on. I barely knew how to get into any New York City middle school or high school, let alone college or Columbia. Breakthrough’s support went beyond getting into schools, it branched into the summer opportunities they put me in contact with, and the mentors who checked on me and the many revisions they offered to my essays. It was always helpful having a sounding board, whether it was life and academic plans or for essays and applications.

Breakthrough led by example, and I learned to be bold in reaching out to mentors and applying for far etched scholarships and programs. I learned to not be afraid, to ask for help, and most importantly to learn from others. It was these programs that built the step stones to a large toolbelt, a braving mindset, and an acceptance letter. Chris, my 10th grade mentor, looked over my HypotheKids Application and I got in; Christina, my 12th grade mentor, read over my personal statement and college applications. In Breakthrough, people are on first-name basis and the sense of community is one of trust and reliance. I never really grasped the value of mentors until they helped me with challenges, with academics and with planning a future.

Breakthrough is defined by its community, and one of my most valuable assets in this program has been the friends who understood financial struggle. The friends who didn’t suggest expensive restaurants or were understanding when I said no. These friends who I related to and shared so much in common. The community aimed high, my friends aimed for difficult yet promising programs, and as a result it inspired and instilled ambition in me. Breakthrough taught me to dream big. Life after college with BTNY is life with the same principles of striving for something bigger. To take a risk and most fundamentally, to give back.

As an aspiring surgeon and engineer, I aim to become a physician but I also aim to come back and get involved with mentoring. I plan to join clubs or initiate programs with similar goals for other regions that lack organizations like BTNY to mentor kids like me, to help them and do for them what BTNY did for me.

Currently, I am a clinical technician at the Columbia Irving Medical Center assisting on research, an application proofread by a BTNY mentor, on a topic very close to my dream of being a physician. To this day I am conducting the research and as I get more exposure to it, the more I want to pursue it. Breakthrough New York played a major role in my life when I needed guidance and I am eternally grateful for the mentors, the friends, and the warm community I found there.

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