Despite the fact that she came from a small town and her college counselors had never heard of Penn, Domonique Cynthia (W’22) was shooting for the Ivy League since day one.
Her parents pushed her to aim for the top schools in the country, saying “You’ll be in a school like Yale someday.” Although it gave her the confidence to shoot for the stars ever since she was a little kid, Yale didn’t happen as planned. Domonique admits that she cried about it a little—she can’t lie considering that a video of her opening her rejection letter went viral. But that was just a small bump in the road. She ended up landing a spot at her first choice: Penn.
“I always believed it was achievable because my parents always whispered it to me,” she says.
First visiting Penn as a freshman in high school, Domonique helped her sister, a first-year Wharton student at the time, move in. As she recalls, the countdown to her own Penn days immediately began: “Picture this, I’m saying ‘three years, 268 days’ or something crazy like that.” Yet when Domonique began her college application process, she was shocked to learn how difficult it was to get a taste of student life online. She remembers being frustrated that she couldn't even see the insides of the dorms. Even more, she was disheartened at the difficulty she faced in getting access to authentic student opinions.
“There’s always been this mask on schools like the Ivy Leagues: Harvard, Yale, Penn, what goes on there? I wanted to show that we’re just normal kids who worked hard and got into this school,” she explains. “I believe anyone can do it, as long as they set their mind to it.”
While Domonique may have been lucky enough to have her family cheering her on, she knows other applicants might not be so lucky. To this end, she's made it her personal mission to help high schoolers across the nation see themselves as capable too. With a YouTube channel boasting nearly 70,000 subscribers and millions of views, she’s dedicated her college years to clearing the mist around higher education. “I’m taking the doors that were open for me and opening them even wider for other young students so they know they can shine ... whatever their wildest dreams are.”
Domonique began posting “A Day in the Life” videos of students at Penn and other universities throughout the world. Initially, she interviewed friends of friends, but has now branched out to casting a wide net through social media. During her sophomore year, Domonique introduced her “73 Questions” series. Modeled after Vogue’s celebrity interviews, she follows a student from a different university around their campus and asks them questions about their experience there. Her hope is that viewers will walk away feeling they made a new friend and with a greater sense of what attending that school might look like.
From the launch of 73 Questions, her channel has grown exponentially, with some posts garnering well over 1 million views. She’s visited campuses around the country—from Florida and Duke to UChicago and Northwestern. But her reach extends beyond the borders of the United States: she frequently features international students and has even made her way into the University of Cambridge and King’s College London virtually. Other series include “How Lit Is…,” a look into the party scenes on campuses, and “The Kickback,” in which she moderates a discussion between eight students of different backgrounds.
Domonique understands the power of representation and remains committed to representing diversity on her channel, sharing as many people’s stories as possible. In particular, she notes, “My passion is helping kids who look like me and other minorities to be able to see themselves at an institution that they might have seen as unachievable before.”
Though self-described as 'a New Yorker at heart,' there’s probably a better phrase to capture her wide roots. Growing up five hours outside of the city and 30 minutes from Canada, Domonique often found herself on the move while growing up. A dual citizen, she’s spent time on both sides of the border and also maintains strong ties to her family’s Jamaican homeland. And she hasn't stopped moving since. Traveling almost every week (under normal circumstances) to produce new content for her page, Domonique works on her courses Monday through Thursday and then hops on a plane, bus, or her parents’ car to meet new friends in places she’s never been before.
She has sacrificed quite a bit of the traditional college experience in pursuit of her mission. But there’s a tremendous payoff: messages from high schoolers thanking her for inspiring them to get all As or to apply to their dream school takes away any of her doubt.
“Now I get to be that parent who’s whispering to students, encouraging them to achieve greatness,” she reflects. “It is achievable, even if no one’s ever said it to them before.”