North Dallas High School valedictorian Elizabeth Tan was only 13 when Child Protective Services escorted her away from the frightening environment she called home.
Tan recalls packing everything she had into a single suitcase and moving into a women’s shelter with her mother and sister.
“It was really chaotic. It was the final year before going off into high school, and suddenly everything changed,” Tan said.
After one month, Tan and her family moved to another temporary shelter where they shared a single room. During that summer, Tan spent much of her time reading, writing and drawing; but nothing filled the void she felt.
She soon became enamored with video games and thought about the characters in relation to her situation.
“I wanted to become independent like the character from Tales of Xillia,” Tan said. “One of the recurring themes is going from an ordinary person to someone who saves the world, and it made me think, ‘What can I do to save my world?’”
Playing this video game empowered Tan to do what she could, whether it meant cleaning, prepping meals, or massaging her mom after a long day of work.
But this was just the beginning. When Tan enrolled in North Dallas High School, which was located 20 miles from the shelter, she struggled making friends, and instead used her imagination to bring Tales of Xillia characters into her world.
“I interacted with the characters through my drawings and writings, they almost seemed alive,” Tan said. “They stood with me in the darkness when I couldn’t find the light.”
Tan prioritized her academics above all while involving herself in extracurricular activities such as karate, orchestra, book clubs, and community service. She even joined the academic decathlon her senior year.
Although Tan credits video games for helping her steer toward a brighter future, she is thankful for the support received from friends and teachers who guided her towards a path of victory.
After Tan graduates, she will attend University of North Texas, at no cost, to study computer science. Tan is a recipient of the State Fair of Texas Scholarship, the Ford Driving Dreams Scholarship, and the Allan Straussberg Scholarship.
She hopes to one day design video games that inspire other individuals to capture and utilize the essence of imagination.