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People say you never know what the future holds, and Shalom Ajiginni can tell you all about it. Shalom saw her life turned around after she became a Monster scholar—and made the best out of it.

While Shalom’s elementary school was on the South Side and she was surrounded by all black Americans who generally looked like her, she stood out as an immigrant from Nigeria. For five years, her classmates bullied her for being a “teacher’s pet” and having skin darker than theirs and a quiet, deeper voice. “They said I was a man because of my voice,” said Shalom. “They were so mean to me, and it was hard for me to talk to them. I was a timid person, so even though they got on my nerves, I didn’t want to get in trouble and cause more drama, so I kept going on and never fought back.”

But her turning point came in sixth grade when Shalom was chosen as a scholar by Monster Education Foundation. “That was when my strength started to build up. I felt like I could do many more things than I could when I was younger. I made a lot more friends and started telling people to stop when they said mean things to me,” Shalom said. “Having my other classmates see how much I’d achieved was what made the difference. If I wasn’t a Monster scholar, I might still be that timid person.”

Shalom’s change didn’t just impact her own life. She recounts telling people to stop bullying a new girl at school, declaring that bullying was just not acceptable. “I stood up for everyone, including myself, and it felt great,” she said.

The very people who had bullied Shalom began to ask her for help in school subjects. Instead of paying them back for how they’d treated her in the past, Shalom chose to help them. “Even my old bullies are good study buddies,” she said.

Shalom’s best friend, Larry sees how nurturing and motivating Shalom is on a daily basis. “Shalom stays back after school to help clean and organize the rooms,” Larry said. “A big thing I remember was when one of my friends wanted to get into a bad situation, and Shalom was really there, just saying it’s not worth it. She’s like the mom of our friend group.”

These qualities of Shalom shine in her neighborhood, too. She organized a peace rally in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago after a gunfight killed the father of the boy who had become one of her first friends. They planted a weeping willow tree. “Even though the weeping willow looks like it’s drooping and dying, it still has flowers blooming and flourishing—no one would say that it’s ugly. Like the tree, although things may seem ugly, there are still beautiful things that can shine in your neighborhood.”

Like the weeping willow tree, Shalom continues to flourish, continuing her role as a Monster Education scholar to be a leader in her community.

Story contributed by Lucy (Minseo) Cho, sophomore at Glenbrook North High School

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