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Florida State student beats incredible odds to achieve dream of college degree

Self-fulfilling prophecies of failure can be easy to buy into, especially for someone growing up in the worst of circumstances.

Failure, however, was never an option for Carmel Bourjolly. The 21-year-old, first-generation Haitian immigrant is graduating this month from Florida State University with a bachelor's degree in psychology.

"I wasn't given a choice to have a normal childhood, but I was blessed to have God put so many angels in my path," Bourjolly said.

Bourjolly's mother died when she was 3. She emigrated to America at 5 to live with her stepmother in Fort Pierce, Fla. She hardly ever saw her father. She suffered from depression at an early age and generally felt neglected by the world. She became a ward of the state of Florida at 16 and, from there, had even less social stability.

"I was shuffled in and out of many homes, some were family and some were strangers," she said.

Despite the odds that were stacked against her, Bourjolly did not waste time feeling sorry for herself. She completed her Associate of Arts degree before she graduated from high school. She also applied for and won a Gates Millennium Scholarship — the first in her high school to do so.

"I found out about the Gates a day and a half before it was due," she said. "I had to write eight essays with no time for revisions. However, impossible tasks are usually what motivate me."