Graduating senior Kasandra Gonzalez, 17, weathered the storm to become the first person in her family to go to college.

“I had a lot going on at home, and my family circumstances changed throughout freshman year, and I really grew as a person. I was going through a lot at home,” Gonzalez said. “I feel really blessed. I didn’t think I would get this far. It’s really new to me and my parents.”

Gonzalez, a senior at Young Women’s Leadership Academy, walked the stage for signing day on May 18 and announced she will be attending the University of Texas at Arlington for nursing.

Signing day is for seniors to share their plans for where they plan to attend college. The 55 other seniors in her class also announced the universities they will attend in the fall. All of the school’s 56 seniors were accepted into college, and 71% will be first-generation college students.

Gonzalez is the eldest in her family and serves as a role model for her younger sisters, she said.

“My parents did tell me there’s no pressure, but your siblings are going to look up to you,” Gonzalez said. “I am trying my best just because I want to be someone they can look up to and that can help them out because I want to be that person that I didn’t have.”

Young Women’s Leadership Academy, founded in August 2010, is Fort Worth ISD’s first single-gender school. It teaches young women from sixth to 12th grade and emphasizes college readiness and sisterhood.

Tamara Albury, the principal at Young Women’s, felt excitement for her “Girls Excelling In Math and Science,” or GEMS, on May 18.

“The performance and what they do academically defies the odds and the statistics,” Albury said. “That’s what we continue to push for is to obliterate that ceiling.”

Signing day symbolizes the “hard work of seven years” and “changes the trajectories of families,” she said.

The festivities kicked off with breakfast on the second floor of the Fort Worth Convention Center. Afterward, the Dallas MavericksD-Town Crew and Maniaacs led the middle and high school students into the ballroom for speeches and a celebration.

Rashundra Warren, 17, began her journey at Young Women’s as a ninth-grader. The experience at the school opened her eyes to opportunity.

She remembers celebrating previous signing days.

“It’s so crazy because I feel like that was yesterday. Sitting in the chairs for the other seniors, dancing with the DJ and now I get to be on stage and walk across the stage and everything,” Warren said.

Then, it was her turn to walk that stage. Warren will attend Grambling State University in the fall and hopes to play in its “World Famed Tiger Marching Band.

Editor’s note: Tamara Albury is a member of the Fort Worth Report reader advisory council. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email or via Twitter.

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Cristian ArguetaSoto

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. He can be reached at cristian.arguetasoto@fortworthreport.org or (817) 317-6991.