Share story

Applying to and paying for college is a challenge for many students, but the five students who participated in Tuesday’s Storytellers event faced a unique set of obstacles.

From serious illness to language barriers and generational poverty, each student overcame significant challenges to make it to a college campus. Along the way, the power of education encouraged them to see themselves in a new light and reach even higher.

The storytelling event was designed to inspire local students to pursue higher education and connect them with people who can help them navigate the application process. Between speakers, emcee Rose McAleese presented information about college access and polled the audience on their thoughts about the college experience.

Counselors and volunteers were available after the program to answer questions about applying, getting financial aid and more. The event was a joint effort from The Seattle Times/Education Lab and the Road Map Project, an education nonprofit serving south King County.

The evening began with the story of Riley Germanis, a 21-year-old senior at Western Washington University. Germanis always intended to pursue a college education, but his plans became uncertain after his parents lost their business during the recession.

Next up was Marcus Aflleje, a senior at UW-Tacoma who is moving to South Carolina this summer to start a job at Boeing. “Failure is learning,” Aflleje, 31, told the audience. “I just learned, and I kept climbing.”

Melody Salcedo, 25, walked into Bellevue College not knowing anything about college or how to apply. This spring, she is graduating with an associate degree and finalizing plans to study abroad at Temple University Japan.

University of Washington junior Ameen Tabatabai, 21, had to put his college dreams on hold due to a personal health crisis. His message for students: “Never let anything hold you back from achieving your full potential.”

Miki Cabell, 48, never dreamed she would end up where she is today — finishing up her master’s degree and about to pursue Ph.D. Getting her first scholarship was a pivotal moment in her journey: “I’d never been chosen for anything in my life, and all of a sudden someone had chosen me.”

Go here to see photos from the event and find out more.