A Texas teen who was born in jail exceeded all odds as she graduated from high school at the top of her class and will be attending Harvard University in the fall.
Aurora Sky Castner graduated third in her class at Conroe High School Thursday night 18 years after she was born in the Galveston County Jail, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“I was born in prison,” is how the new grad opened her application essay to the Ivy League school before she was accepted through early action, according to the newspaper.
Castner’s mother was incarcerated at the time she gave birth and was not a part of her life since the day her father picked her up as a newborn from the jail and raised her as a single dad.
With the help of the community in Conroe, Castner was able to reach her dream of getting into Harvard, where she plans to pursue a career in law.
Her elementary school staff introduced her to a community mentorship program where adult volunteers grab lunch with young students at least once a week and advise them on their needs, goals, fears and futures. Many of the mentor-student pairs form years-long relationships and Castner’s was no different.
Mona Hamby has been a part of Castner’s life for a decade, according to the Chronicle.
“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. I thought this sounds like a bright little girl,” Hamby told the newspaper. “I still have that paper today.”
Like Castner, Hamby did not have a mother in her life.
“She told me ‘I’ve been to jail.’ I said “No, that can’t be right,’” she said of the then 8-year-old. “I knew that I can’t just go eat lunch with this kid once a week, she needed more.”
Hamby took Castner to her first haircut at a salon, helped her get glasses and even took her to tour Harvard’s campus in March 2022, the publication reported.
“After that trip, I saw her love for the school intensify,” Hamby said.
The teenager said she found value in her life both before she joined the mentorship program and after.
“It was a very different environment than I grew up in and that’s not a bad thing,” Castner told the Chronicle. “Everything that Mona taught me was very valuable in the same way that everything that I went through before Mona was very valuable.”
Others in the community looked out for the teen as well — from helping her get dental care to gifting her the experience of summer camp. A Boston University professor, James Wallace, even advised Castner on her Harvard application, according to the paper.
“He helped me to tell my story in the best way possible,” she said.
But Castner’s academic rigor was self-motivated. She grew up a strong reader at an early age and joined her high school’s Academy for Health and Science Professions, which helps prepare young minds for careers in science and mathematics.
“There was something satisfying about having all As and having that accomplishment,” she said. “Grades just meant a lot to me.”
Castner said she is interested in studying psychology and philosophy at Harvard with her sights set on a future law degree in a post shared with other incoming Harvard students.
“I am beyond excited to be attending Harvard College in the fall,” the teen wrote. “… I cannot wait to meet my fellow classmates so do not be afraid to reach out!”