In Marquise Foster's essay, he wrote of hustling his first job at age 13 as a sign holder for Cingular Wireless -- telling a "white lie" that he was 16 to get the job. Five months later, when the company caught on, he went to work at a Creole restaurant as a busboy, leaving three years later as assistant lead cook.
Eventually, he succumbed to the gang scene: "That thug lifestyle my father perfected had slowly but surely worked its way into my bloodstream and changed the child my mother raised into a menace to society."
After entering the foster care system, Marquise made school and God a priority.
"I'm taking my newfound knowledge about life and the personal growth I've had, and running with it," he wrote. "I'm confident that at the end of my route I'll find success waiting. Once found, my success will become my life's true hustle."
Craig Best, 16, also an Inglewood senior, wrote about how a library book he happened upon -- "The Girl in a Swing," by Richard Adams -- led to a personal epiphany.
"I would stop and reread a line," he wrote. "Reread it, inhale it and begin to dream. I dreamt of a world entirely different from my own, calm, simple and undoubtedly serene. . . . I found that if I could be exposed to something as powerful as that, by doing something as little as picking up a book, there had to be an infinite number of sensations out there, waiting for me to uncover them."
Best said that before the writing session, he didn't feel he had anything interesting to put into a personal essay. He was encouraged to write not about what he thought a college wanted to hear, but about what he thought was important.
He didn't try to make it sound good, he said. But it came out that way.
"I now see the world as an unsolved jigsaw puzzle, with an infinite array of pieces suspended above me," he wrote. "All I have to do is reach up and grab them. They are waiting for me, they are waiting for all of us."