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Leesville Road senior says move to Raleigh changed life trajectory

June 28, 2018 GMT

A local high school senior used his relocation to Raleigh as a fresh start in life.

In a speech to his high school classmates, Leesville Road senior A.J. Pena explained that when he lived in New York, he was headed down the wrong path.

“I was born and raised in a not so great part of uptown Manhattan,” Pena said. “By my freshman year, I saw friends involved in drugs and gangs.”

Pena said he was on a similar path.

“I was failing school, basically, then my brother got robbed at knifepoint, and my mom was like ‘Yeah, we (have to) go,’” he said.

Pena said while he completely changed the trajectory of his life in Raleigh, he had challenges and decisions to make along to make the way, but he successfully navigated the move from New York to North Carolina.

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“The turning point was moving here,” he said. “After moving here, there was this realization of me wanting to do better for myself.”

Staying with family in the area, change was almost immediate, turning a 1.8 grade point average into college scholarship offers and rising through the ranks of the Raleigh youth employment program.

He is now interning in the city manager’s office, assisting the city council.

Pena said he’s a better role model and better person since he decided to turn his life around.

“Hard work does pay off and it doesn’t matter where you start,” Pena said. “It matters where you end and looking towards the future.”

Pena plans to attend UNC-Greensboro in the fall to study business administration.