“I was born in prison.”
It was the opening line of a powerful admissions essay for Harvard University. But it was also the beginning of Aurora Sky Castner’s life.
Eighteen years ago, Castner was born in the Galveston County jail. Her mother, who had a history of criminal activity was sentenced to an extended term just months before her birth.
Days after she was born, Castner’s bipolar father picked her up from prison and raised her as a single dad, per the Courier.
Today, she just graduated third in her class at Conroe High School and is heading to Harvard. She plans to study law.
How a Teen Who Started in Prison Ended Up at Harvard
Castner is no stranger to adversity. Born in jail, abandoned by her mother, raised by a single father struggling with his mental health, and faced with the many challenges that come with childhood trauma and living in poverty, her road hasn’t been easy.
But it’s a road she hasn’t had to travel alone.
During elementary school, her teachers recognized her potential and felt she would benefit from a community mentoring program. They linked her with CISD’s Project Mentor program which partners volunteers with students in need.
And that’s when Mona Hamby stepped in. Castner didn’t know it then, but Hamby would become one of her greatest cheerleaders and coach.
The moment Hamby met the little girl, she knew she was special. “I was given a paper about her. Her hero was Rosa Parks, her favorite food was tacos from Dairy Queen and she loved to read,” Hamby told the Houston Chronicle.
“I thought this sounds like a bright little girl.”
Hamby did more than just provide academic tutoring. She took the quiet girl under her wing and provided a much-needed respite for her overwhelmed dad. She helped Castner with day-to-day things like picking out new glasses and going for her first salon haircut.
“It was a very different environment than I grew up in and that’s not a bad thing,” Castner said. “Everything that Mona taught me was very valuable in the same way that everything that I went through before Mona was very valuable.”
How a Network of Supporters Made All the Difference to a Girl Born in a Prison Cell
Other community members also played a pivotal role in Castner’s life. Including a Boston University professor who helped the teen write the essay that would wow the Harvard admissions committee, and ultimately, lead to her early acceptance to the Ivy League school.
It truly does take a village.
Despite the odds stacked against her, Castner has managed to defy her origins and redefine her life. Rather than be weighted down by the socio-economic obstacles in her life, once-strangers helped to buoy her up.
She excelled at school, earning straight A’s. In high school, she enrolled in the Academy for Health and Science Professions in the hopes of realizing her dream of going to Harvard.
A dream she’s had forever.
In an Instagram post that has since been made private, Mona Hamby wrote:
“Girl set a goal to go to Harvard in elementary school despite being born in poverty. Received full scholarship to attend Harvard in 2023.”
Mona Hamby via Instagram
Not only is Castner headed to Harvard, but she’s doing it on a full scholarship.
Never Imprison Your Dreams
At only 18 years old, Castner has defied societal expectations. And while she credits others with her success there’s no denying that without her strength, determination, and resilience, she wouldn’t be where she is today.
She had a dream and she pursued it relentlessly, despite the odds against her. She didn’t allow her past to dictate her future. And luckily for her, she had tremendous support along the way.
Castner is living proof that it doesn’t matter where you start. What matters is where you finish.
More from Goalcast: