Graduation ceremony
A graduation ceremony. Photo via Pixabay

Life is not a series of coincidences. It’s a path paved by intention and shaped by personal decisions.

I learned this important lesson on the road to my senior year in high school when I was introduced to Project A.W.A.R.E., a nonprofit organization dedicated to guiding at-risk teens on their path to adulthood.

When I started high school, I was unfocused and unmotivated. I didn’t have a clear vision of who I was and where I was headed. My poor choices nearly threw me off the track toward graduation. But when I attended my first Project A.W.A.R.E. meeting, I began turning my life around.

Project A.W.A.R.E. invests in young, disconnected lives. The gifts I received from Founder Reggie Washington and his team are priceless: time, kindness, guidance, and faith in my ability to rise above obstacles to become the man I want to be.

Thanks to Project A.W.A.R.E., I have attained the emotional literacy, self-awareness and life skills to achieve my vision of life after high school graduation. I will be the first person in my family to graduate from high school. I don’t want to let myself — or my family — down.

My story can be any young person’s story. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s an experience that defines every stage of our lives. But how we fall down is not what’s important — it’s how we choose to pick ourselves up and learn from our mistakes that really matters.

As a high school senior, on the doorstep of adulthood, I realize the best years of my life lie ahead of me. I want to live a life of meaning. I want to realize my hopes and dreams.

I encourage high school seniors, all over the county, to join me in redefining the way teens celebrate prom and graduation. This time of year can be dangerous for us. But we can choose to have fun and express ourselves without drinking alcohol, using drugs or acting recklessly.

Let’s grab this opportunity to create our own story. Together, we can stand up to the jaded stereotypes that limit our true potential.

Let’s be safe, live smart and dream big. We have so much to live for and too much to lose.

Austin Villa-Miranda is a high school senior at West Hills High School in Santee and a youth leader with Project A.W.A.R.E., a nonprofit organization dedicated to guiding at-risk teens on their path to adulthood.