As he walked through the ivory columns of one of California’s most distinguished academic institutions, Ánimo Inglewood Charter High School alumnus Jeramiah Winston asked himself, “Do I belong here?” It was a question that often nagged him. Despite how hard he worked to get to Stanford, he couldn’t shake the feeling.
“It was challenging trying to measure up to a community full of people who are all very intelligent, who come from affluent areas and some of the top high schools in the country,” said Jeramiah. The irony is that Jeramiah graduated at the top of his class from one of the best high schools in the country, Ánimo Inglewood. He was one of the few students among his freshman cohort from Inglewood; a city that has, for many years, not had many high performing public high schools.
An Early Appreciation of Education
Jeramiah has always understood the importance of an education and the pursuit of knowledge. He attributes his early appreciation of education to his grandmother, a retired elementary school teacher.
Jeramiah quickly found a love for literature, easily reading three books a week. In middle school, Jeramiah demonstrated his dedication to his academic success when considering what options he had for high school. “Although I wanted to be with my friends, I heard Ánimo Inglewood offered great academic opportunities,” said Jeramiah. “I knew that in order to be successful I would have to put my academic success at the forefront.” Although a tough decision to not follow his friends, Jeremiah chose to submit his name to the lottery at Ánimo Inglewood over the other neighborhood school his closest friends were attending.
Jeramiah had the full support of his family, and soon found that he made the right decision-- he won the lottery, literally. “At Ánimo Inglewood I found a community that was very supportive of me, and encouraged me to come out of my shell and to excel academically and socially.”
A Budding Renaissance Man
In his second year at Ánimo Inglewood, Jeramiah took an art class taught by Rosa Joo that changed the way Jeramiah looked at art and himself. As a teacher at Green Dot Public Schools, Joo was supported and empowered to be a mentor to Jeramiah and many other students, and she eventually became a mentor to other teachers on campus.
Having Joo’s support in learning new techniques and skills helped Jeramiah build confidence in his art, and in himself. “Before that point I didn’t see myself as a good artist,” said Jeramiah. “Ms. Joo really pushed me towards becoming a better artist, even when I didn’t believe in my own artistic ability.”
Joo recalls Jeramiah being a lover of learning, who was well-read and extremely curious, often independently exploring topics covered in class during his free time. “I remember after covering a unit on one- and two-point perspective, Jeramiah asked me whether there was such a thing as three-point perspective. Because it was an introductory course, we didn’t have the time to cover it, so I lent him a book about perspective,” said Joo. “A week later, he had taught himself three-point perspective and applied the technique to the project we were working on in class!”
After taking Joo’s art class, Jeramiah began keeping a sketchbook where he explored observational drawing, surrealism, and other art topics. Throughout high school, Jeramiah and Joo worked closely to develop his skills and explore new techniques.
Like Joo, English teacher Jessica Smith saw and nurtured the brilliance in Jeremiah. “For four years, my classroom was not just not a place for learning, but also a place where Jeramiah and his friends met to discuss life, study, and get answers and guidance on the road that lay ahead,” said Smith.
The two speak often and Jeramiah’s work is often referenced in Smith’s English classes. “I really believe that he will write something that will change the world someday,” said Smith. “He hates to hear me say it, but I believe that Oprah will reopen her book club for his first novel because she will be so blown away.”
From the Page to the Stage
At Ánimo Inglewood, Jeramiah not only grew as a scholar and an artist, but also, to his surprise, as a performance poet. Jeramiah considers himself an introvert, but through the encouragement of his drama teacher and his peers, he decided to participate in Ánimo Inglewood’s poetry slam, a competition for performance poetry.
“It was the first time I ever got on a stage in front of people and performed something,” said Jeremiah. “I can honestly say that was the experience that really boosted my confidence.”
“Just when you think you have him figured out as the soft-spoken, academic honor roll kid who loves to read, write, and draw, the drama teacher sends you a video of him performing a stunning, original and personal poem about his speech impediment in front of hundreds of people,” said Joo. “Jeremiah's interests and brilliant mind refuses to be defined by little boxes.” And Ánimo Inglewood gave Jeramiah just the space his mind needed to expand and explore.
Settling Into Stanford
Jeramiah graduated from Ánimo Inglewood in 2015 as valedictorian, and began at Stanford University the following fall. Although he was elated that his hard work paid off, and he was now pursuing a degree at the college of his dreams, those feelings of not belonging haunted him. “I was struggling with the idea that I didn’t belong here. It wasn’t until a friend told me that for me to question my place here, is to not respect my efforts and the efforts of everyone who has helped me get here, that I began to let myself off the hook.”
His friend’s words stuck with Jeramiah and helped him see his place at Stanford: “I began to think about not only my efforts, but the efforts of everyone who had supported me thus far, and I realized I do belong here.” He is currently a sophomore pursuing an art degree with an English minor.
Jeramiah is also working alongside classmates at Stanford to create a graphic novel. “We have taken a real person’s story and made it into a full-fledged 90-page graphic novel that will be published and distributed,” said Jeramiah. “Before coming to Stanford, the idea of creating my own graphic novel was just an idea, but in a few weeks I’m going to have that book in my hand, and that’s really exciting.”
Inspiring Future Graduates
Although he may be miles away from home, Jeramiah remains strongly connected to his Green Dot family. He shared his story and experiences with Green Dot students this past spring when he hosted a campus visit as part of Ánimo Inglewood’s Northern California college tour. In fact, Jeramiah hopes to inspire students to pursue their own dreams.
“I definitely give credit to Ánimo Inglewood for helping to make me the person I am today.”