A Texas teenager born in prison exceeded all expectations when she graduated high school at the top of her class and will attend Harvard University in the fall.
Aurora Sky Castner finished 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,” was how the new grad opened her Ivy League school application essay before being accepted through early action, according to the newspaper.
Castner’s mother was incarcerated when she gave birth and hadn’t been a part of her life since the day her father picked her up as a newborn baby from prison and raised her as a single father.
With the help of the Conroe community, Castner was able to fulfill her dream of getting into Harvard, where she plans to pursue a career in law.
Staff at her elementary school introduced her to a community mentorship program where adult volunteers have lunch with young students at least once a week and counsel them about their needs, goals, fears and future. Many mentor-student pairs form relationships that last for years 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 him. Her hero was Rosa Parks, her favorite food was Dairy Queen tacos, and she loved to read. I thought that sounded like a bright little girl,” Hamby told the newspaper. “I still have that paper today.”
Like Castner, Hamby did not have a mother in his life.
“She told me ‘I was in prison’. I said ‘No, that can’t be true,’ she said of the 8-year-old. “I knew I couldn’t just go to 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 on a tour of Harvard’s campus in March 2022, the publication reported.
“After that trip, I saw his love for school intensify,” Hamby said.
The teenager said she found value in her life before joining 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 Mona taught me was very precious in the same way that everything I experienced before Mona was very precious.”
Other members of the community also cared for the teenager, from helping her get dental care to providing her with the experience of a summer camp. A Boston University professor, James Wallace, even advised Castner on his application to Harvard, according to the newspaper.
“He helped me tell my story in the best way possible,” she said.
But Castner’s academic rigor was self-motivated. She grew up reading early and joined her high school’s Health and Science Professions Academy, which helps prepare young minds for careers in science and math.
“There was something satisfying about having all the Aces and having that accomplishment,” she said. “The grades meant a lot to me.”
Castner said she wanted to study psychology and philosophy at Harvard, in preparation for a future law degree in a position shared with other incoming Harvard students.
“I am beyond excited to be attending Harvard College in the fall,” the teenager wrote. “…I can’t wait to meet my classmates, so don’t be afraid to reach out!”