Two young women who were raised under harrowing circumstances – one born to a jailed mother and the other nearly forced to marry at age 12 – both got accepted to Harvard University.
18-year-old Sky Castner was born in Galveston County Jail to an incarcerated mother, then picked up as a newborn and raised by her single father.
Castner was an avid reader at a young age and was introduced to a community mentorship program by the staff at her elementary school.
She was paired with Mona Hamby at 8-years-old, and the duo formed a decade long relationship.
“She told me ‘I’ve been to jail.’ I said “No, that can’t be right,’” Hambry told the Houston Chronicle. “I knew that I can’t just go eat lunch with this kid once a week, she needed more.”
Hambry, who also grew up without a mother, went above and beyond the mentorship program’s parameters, by taking her to get her first salon haircut and reading glasses.
“It was a very different environment than I grew up in and that’s not a bad thing,” Castner said.
“Everything that Mona taught me was very valuable in the same way that everything that I went through before Mona was very valuable.”
The teenager was also supported by the local community, who paid for her receive dental care and go to summer camp.
Castner joined her high school’s Academy for Health and Science Professions and graduated third in her class this year.
“There was something satisfying about having all As and having that accomplishment. Grades just meant a lot to me,” she said about the achievement.
She begins classes at Harvard in the fall, where she plans on studying law. Castner will be joined Aria Mustary, 23, who will begin her masters in Entrepreneurship, Education Leadership and Organizations.
Mustary was born to Bangladesh immigrants in New York, but her father tried to send her back to the country and marry her off to her first cousin at age 12.
“My mom had said no but my dad argued, ‘She’s rebellious, she doesn’t go to school anyway and she’s not going to go anywhere with her life so let’s just get her married off,'” she told Insider.
Mustary’s mother, Syeda, was a child bride herself, and a was unhappily forced to marry at a young age and bear two children.
When her father argued that they did not have enough resources to properly support the family, Mustary was able convince Syeda to leave that day.
“I begged my mom to divorce him and leave the oppressive environment,” she detailed. “Enough was enough.”
Syeda and the two girls moved to an apartment in Queens, New York, where she opened a small fabric business to make ends meet.
Mustary said that many of her female relatives were married off at young ages due to financial reasons, and believe that if there were better options, their parents would not force them to wed.
She created the Mai Soli Foundation to teach young girls in developing countries to be self-sufficient.
“Based on my personal life, I wanted to create a program to help young girls secure their own education, have financial literacy, open bank accounts, and create incentives for families so they don’t resort to marriage,” Mustary explained.
Due to her ambition and achievements, she was accepted into the Harvard University masters program in the fall.