Jena K. Best thirty minutes of my week here, without a doubt. Stay with me. It’s been great meeting all of these great young men and women in the last seven days. (Can you believe only seven days!) In some cases, you could say “meeting again.” But let’s start at the start. I asked Jena what she like to do and she replied without hesitation: go hiking. That seemed fairly simple. I asked her why and the answer was more complicated. “Senior year was supposed to be the year that I really proved who I was as a person. Growing up with dyslexia as a student proved extremely challenging. I had to deal with teacher and students who were not very supportive or had high exceptions of me. As I grew older I learned how to take care of myself and become a strong independent student. Graduation was supposed to be a way of proving to myself and others that a kid with disabilities can be successful in school. I got accepted into a very good school on my own merit. I committed to Virginia Tech for Physics because I excel in math and science.” The hiking seems less disconnected from that experience when you think about it. “When you asked me to describing myself, the first thing that comes to mind is that I love to be outside. My parents have been hiking with me since I was an infant. I continue to go on hikes because being out in nature is so important to me. I love going on new trails, climbing new terrain...and feeling free.” As Jena told me all of this—the sadder stuff as well as the freedom that the mountains gives her, we discovered something else. This wasn’t our first meeting. Jena ran into the house and came back with a beautiful framed photograph of her hanging off her mom’s back. It was taken by me fourteen years ago. Small world.
Location: Arlington, Virginia.