Lashawn Samuel and acceptance letters

Spend enough time getting to know Lashawn Samuel and you can't help but notice a level of introspection and candor that belies his status as a first-year college student. 

His stories and writing — heartbreaking, inspiring, and always honest — reflect a personal journey shaped by tragedy but not defined by it: 

“Memories of my friend’s death are still fresh. He was shot in the head twice and in the body five times during a troublesome sequence of events. I remember coming home and seeing police cars in all directions. I watched as the police swarmed my street with M-16s. My friend was really special to me. He preached that we could do anything we put our minds to, especially if we prioritized our educational goals and explored new opportunities.” 

A dream come true 

Lashawn Samuel headshot
Lashawn Samuel

Lashawn arrived at Ohio State — his “dream school” — in August. On his way to racking up a 5.0 grade point average, he was accepted at 11 other universities, nine which offered him full-ride academic scholarships. But he had made up his mind long ago: if Ohio State and Fisher’s accounting program offered, he was taking. 

“When I found out it had one of the top business schools in the nation and a top-10 accounting program, Ohio State was pretty much my top option,” he said. “I’d known at least 200 people who graduated or attended Ohio State and no one had a bad thing to say about it. It seemed like a place I could have success at.” 

He was selected for a full scholarship as part of the university’s Morrill Scholarship Program (MSP), which rewards academically talented students who are actively engaged in diversity-based leadership, service and social justice activities. Lashawn’s MSP application essay reflected not only the violence of growing up in his Franklinton neighborhood, it also detailed his desire to improve a socio-economic future for himself and his family: 

“My friend's story is not unique in my neighborhood; his death is just one of many. My family resides in Section 8 housing and has struggled financially throughout my adolescence. My mother and father are both college dropouts who work very hard but do not earn enough to make a good living.”   

'Work ethic and passion’ 

He knows every crosswalk, pothole and cracked sidewalk between his home and the Franklinton Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library. Roundtrip, it's a 3-mile journey, one Lashawn walked five days a week every week beginning in the eighth grade and continuing until March of his senior year, when COVID-19 closed the libraries.  

“It was a quiet place where I could do homework,” he says of the three hours he’d spend at the library daily. “My neighborhood wasn’t best place. There were issues at home where I was unmotivated to do homework. The library was a place I could get help. I just knew I had support system around there.”    

Homework eventually began to include college and scholarship applications and essays. His time at the library also began to build and strengthen a foundation and a network of support for Lashawn. 

“Having worked with him regularly over the years, it felt like a true honor to help Lashawn work toward his big goal — not just college acceptance, but enough scholarship money to get him through college,” says Kelly Young, a former homework help center specialist at the Franklinton Branch. “We had frequent long conversations as he worked to decide what next steps were right for him, and how the library could provide resources to help him get there.” 

That support system was especially helpful in helping Lashawn navigate mental health issues early in his high school career.  

"I was motivated by the people placed around me,” he says. “Even when I was depressed or anxious, having people who cared about me, who wanted me to succeed and who showed me what I was able to achieve gave me motivation to go forward.”  

Lashawn Samuel graduation
Lashawn graduated high school with a 5.0 GPA and began his Ohio State academic career with 21 credit hours earned as a high school student.

“I wanted to make them — and myself — proud.” 

In addition to the 12 universities he was accepted at, Lashawn applied for 250 scholarships for which he wrote more than 500 essays. During one week alone, he wrote 16 essays, this on top of taking five college or Advanced Placement classes and attending a Bible study four to five times each week. 

“I was determined to make it out of my neighborhood and do something for my family and myself,” he says. “I didn’t want to settle for a minimum-wage job with tough hours where I would be doing something I didn’t like doing.” 

By the time he had sent his final college and scholarship applications out, Lashawn estimated that there were more than 15 people in his corner supporting him. 

“Lashawn has more perseverance and determination than anyone I’ve ever met,” says Young, one of his biggest cheerleaders. “Not many people could have persisted through the obstacles that he faced in his journey to college, and no one should have to; but he has never lost sight of his long-term goals. We can all take inspiration from Lashawn’s work ethic and passion.” 

'I seek to motivate, encourage’ 

At Fisher, Lashawn is a member of Project THRIVE, a comprehensive program creating and equipping a community of minority and underrepresented accounting and management information systems students to succeed. After resigning himself to the fact that a basketball career in the NBA was unlikely, an eight-grade Lashawn discovered accounting as a viable career.  

“There are so many things you can do as an accountant and not be stuck behind a desk,” he says. 

Although COVID-19 has impacted his first few months as a student on campus, Lashawn is finding his footing. His classes are a blend of hybrid and in-person; his exploration of student organizations has been limited to virtual events; and he hasn’t yet attended an Ohio State football game as a student. But he knows those opportunities will come. Meanwhile, the self-described introvert is making friends and taking part in other traditions, like Buckeye Donuts at 2 a.m. and finding places on and off campus to play basketball. 

“I’m trying to find my fit and my balance,” he says. “Anyone first coming to Ohio State may not enjoy it right away, but it’s nothing to worry about. No college experience is the same right now with the pandemic. But there’s always something out there for you.” 

He’s also passionate about continuing his work advocating for more mental health initiatives for young people. As part of a high school project, he pitched an idea in which every class in his school would be shortened by 5 minutes to create an extra period at the end of each week dedicated solely for students to discuss mental health issues. 

“It was a way to connect younger and older students and to prevent isolation and loneliness,” he says. 

“I want to help kids like me to be successful. I am motivated to encourage people of color to achieve their highest academic and personal goals. My friend's life and mine intersected in the place in which we lived and the dreams we shared. We both loved to help people; especially kids of color. Like him, I seek to motivate, encourage, and help them reach their ultimate goals.” 

Photos courtesy of Lashawn Samuel and Kelly Young.