Jasmine Mack, 18, Kirksville

Wednesday, July 4, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

KIRKSVILLE, March 2 — Most of the students I met in Kirksville had some sort of plan for their future. Some had plans and contingency plans. Jasmine Mack, 18, wasn't one of them.

Mack has big dreams that include traveling the world, making it a better place and becoming a teacher so she can work with children. She plans to attend Moberly Area Community College in Kirksville when she graduates.

She's just not sure how she's going to pay for it.

Mack has been working on her Child Development Associate certification for the past year at the Kirksville Area Technical Center to gain experience. She's worked as a baby sitter part time for the last several years and is currently looking for another job to help save for school.

She should receive financial aid in the form of tuition waivers and grants to attend MACC. But the aid won't necessarily cover expenses for things like books, fees and the cost of living. Her strategy for saving is to put money she sets aside from baby-sitting in glass jars marked "school" and "travel."

Mack lives with her mother, who worked as a cosmetologist before her divorce and subsequent move to Kirksville in 2008. She now works at Kraft Foods "making bacon," Mack said. Their nearest relatives live an hour away in La Belle.

Her mother admonishes her to go to college and make something of herself, Mack said.

"She wants me to amount to more than she did. She wants me to be a criminal psychologist. She doesn't understand that I'm not a science person. She got all straight A's through high school. Me? Not so much."

Mack had never really heard of the American Dream before. She's not even sure it exists. She knows she hasn't found it yet.

"As for what it means for me," she wrote on a questionnaire, "I'm not sure but I will let you know when I find out."

As I listened to this young woman talk about her dreams and goals for the future, I was struck by how much difference a stable support system makes in a person's life. She described her family as "complicated" and explained that her siblings were being raised in various states across the U.S. She also told me she'd never met her father — something that she felt was holding her back because she didn't know part of who she was or where she came from.

In thinking about her circumstances, I found myself wondering how a young person is supposed to attain his or her dreams when there’s no one to guide them. The school has done its part, but what happens when she walks out of its doors for the last time in May? What happens when she begins college? What if she can't find another job or if fees amount to more than she makes?

I have to admit, I left this interview with more questions than answers. If some post-high school education is necessary for success, is success truly accessible for all?

This story is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times

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