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CHICAGO (AP) – Jamil Boldian headed to college four years ago, arriving in small-town Ohio with a one-way Megabus ticket and $17.91 to his name. He’d been scared to leave Chicago, the only place he’d ever really known. He’d had a rough start in life, bouncing around in seven or eight elementary schools. He wasn’t always sure he was college material. Now here he was on a rural campus, where he knew no one.

But that had been part of the grand plan ever since Boldian had enrolled in Urban Prep, a new charter high school for young black men. Most were poor, way behind in school and living with their mothers in gang-ravaged neighborhoods. But founder Tim King had made a pledge: If they stayed disciplined and dreamed big, they’d get into college. And sure enough, every member in the Class of 2010, the school’s first, was accepted into four-year colleges and universities.

Once they’d climbed that hill, though, the mountain was next. Each student approached college with his own baggage:

There was Krishaun Branch, the former hell-raiser who’d flirted with gang life, left Urban Prep, then returned after a tragedy. Robert Henderson, the survivor of a lifetime’s worth of hard knocks. Marlon Marshall, the soft-spoken runner who’d said he’d never had a real childhood. Rayvaughn Hines, the student council vice president and athlete, who grew up hearing the odds were stacked against young black men. Cameron Barnes, the lanky, shy teen still mourning his mother’s death, wondering whether he had what it takes to finish college.

Once in school, these students would wrestle with stress and loneliness. Depression and self-doubt.

They’d come to know the stomach-churning anxiety of getting a D on a big test. The strain of balancing classes with two, even three jobs and still ending up in debt. The uneasiness of living in a nearly all-white community for the first time in their lives. The sting of hearing your professor predict you will fail in school.

They’d have to overcome all that, and more, to make it to graduation. Check out photos and video below.

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