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Student Leaves Behind Her Troubled Past For Slot At UC Berkeley

BERKELEY (KPIX 5) -- She's been dancing in class and in church for as long as she can remember. As Students Rising Above scholar Amber Lee describes it, she feels like she's in the clouds.

The Berkeley High School senior says in dance, she can "just block out the rest of the world and everything else is just dancing … As a child, I don't know what I was escaping. It was just something different, but now, I see what I was escaping."

LEARN MORE: Students Rising Above

During her childhood, Lee's mother worked two jobs - that is, until she was laid off. And throughout those years, Lee bounced from home to home.

"As a child, I think I never really realized what I had gone through until I wrote my SRA essay," she said. "Honestly, I feel it was normal to me … It was normal not to see my parents, it was normal to be out with friends late at night, at parties, in middle school."

By the time she reached high school, friends were either going to jail or getting pregnant. That's when Lee came to a realization that she had to change her own trajectory. She recalls the exact day when it hit her. "One day, 4th period, just out on Shattuck [Ave. in Berkeley], hanging out." she asked herself, "What are these people doing? What am I doing?"

Lee answered her own question by getting college-bound grades and becoming a school leader at Berkeley High. She will move a few blocks over in the fall, as a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley in the fall.

Her social studies teacher, Amanda Levin, spoke highly of Amber's dedication. "She's really clear these things happened and she's got this great understanding that in spite of what's happened, she's got to keep this train moving forward," said Levin.

In her Students Rising Above application essay, Lee closed with this reflection: "I am free to embrace who I am and who I am destined to be."

Lee is looking forward to the UC Berkeley challenge. "I believe I'm destined to be successful," she said. "I just have a feeling that I will change the world. I don't know how or what I'll do but I think I'll make a big impact in the world and I think it'll have to do with juvenile justice."

She explained that her past will be a key factor in being able to help other troubled youth. "In order to reach out to kids that need to be helped, you have to go through something," said Amber. "Everybody has a story and if mine can help another life, why not share it?"

Levin is confident her star pupil will find a way to make an impact. "She's going to be whatever she needs to be," said Levin. She's going to find the place where she can make the biggest difference and I think she's going to fill that space."

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