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Junior Rotarians share their insights on life

Speakers

Ellen Simons

Olivia Dagenhart

Joel Davies

Laura Bullock

Tessa Brown

Love prevails with grandmother’s dementia

By Ellen Simons

Picture this. You’ve just been introduced to someone new. You learn their name and begin to initiate small talk, but moments later you’ve forgotten everything they told you in the last five minutes.

This is the everyday reality for people battling dementia, people just like my grandmother, Gigi. Dementia is not only a challenge for the person suffering from it, but also the family members that have to do everything they can to protect them and make life-changing decisions.

Although I have no conception of the struggles she goes through, I do see the effect that dementia has on her character. It’s heartbreaking to watch someone so close to you go through something over which they have no control.

You learn to face the challenges head on by practicing patience and understanding. There are times when I feel as if dementia has completely overtaken her, especially when she gets easily irritated about being confused.

She accuses my family and I of taking advantage of her when we take her places without telling her first. In reality, we’ve told her countless times. Her inability to recall anything that happened five minutes beforehand is frightening because you never know if she’ll go outside for a walk and not know how to find her way back home.

Not to mention, I have been responsible for giving Gigi her insulin shot several times when neither of my parents nor her caregiver, Tami, were available. I see how hard dementia is on Gigi as well as my father, so I try to help out as much as I can, whether it be picking her up from the local day-center or something as simple as going over to her apartment to give her some company.

Dementia does not discriminate against whom it chooses to be its victims, but I know it chose the wrong person. While dementia causes Gigi to periodically lash out at those closest to her and forget anything that happened within the last day, it will never take away the love she has for family, flowers and dance.

I have no clue what her future holds, but I do know that I will try to make living with dementia as easy as possible. Gigi has taught me countless lessons over the years, with the most important one being the need to live in the present because one day you may only remember the past.

Governor’s School made all the difference

By Laura Bullock

For my entire life, I have resided in Salisbury. I was born at the hospital that is three minutes away from my house and have attended 11 years of public education in the same school system.

Throughout this time, I have made many great friends and experienced many wonderful memories, but as time passed I began to experience this town differently. I noticed that I think differently than many of my peers and have different priorities than them. I began to feel as if I did not belong here.

I spent hours researching colleges and planning my great escape until one day I discovered a program that would change everything. I stumbled upon the North Carolina Governor’s School, a six-week summer program for the “best and brightest” of North Carolina.

I spoke to my teachers and counselors about the program and began working tirelessly on my application and audition. I was admitted to the program and spent the previous summer on the campus of Salem College with 330 driven, intelligent individuals. The program allows you to apply for one of 10 different disciplines, half of which are arts and half academic.

I applied for theatre which meant I would spend each day learning about theatre and rehearsing for performances. All students would also take an interdisciplinary philosophy and self and society class. After these classes, students would have the opportunity to attend two optional seminars a day.

The faculty taught these seminars and their topics ranged from Kanye West to Colorism to Harry Potter. Guest speakers could also make presentations. For example, a photojournalist from Venezuela came and made us aware from first-hand perspective of the current political disarray in Venezuela.

Each day ended with a social activity such as open mic night or kick ball.

I cannot verbally express how transformative and magical this experience was. My theatre class made the whole world seem brighter, my self and society class opened me up to new ideas and provided a kind support system, and my philosophy class taught me how to view my own life.

But most importantly, I met people who embraced and understood me for who I am. I returned to this town with a new confidence and a support system that spans from Asheville to Wilmington. I am a stronger, happier, and kinder person because of Governor’s School west.

The world is big and I have a lot to learn

By Tessa Brown

My fifth-grade year was a year full of its ups and downs. I had just moved to Salisbury and was completely new. When I started at the elementary school here, I discovered that I was deeply unhappy with it and hated going to school every day. So, my parents pulled me out and homeschooled me instead. That was when I declared on a whim that I wanted to learn French.

As it turns out, I enjoyed it greatly. I spent a lot of time trying to learn it and pronounce it correctly every day, and I found that I could pick new things up like grammar rules or vocabulary relatively quickly. It led me to study French for years after that. And when you learn a new language, you inevitably learn about the culture, too.

I thought everything was neat, whether it be French Christmas, or French festivals, or anything else. Before this, I had never known much about any culture other than my own, and learning French was the turning point that expanded my world view and showed me how important understanding and preserving culture is.

I then decided to expand further and start trying to learn more about Japanese culture too. I want to continue that path, which is why I’m trying the language this year. I’m even considering trying to be a translator later in life.

All of this just because I decided to try to learn French all those years ago — and it goes to show how important having a passion is for a person. In my case, that whim led to my discovery of other cultures on a deeper level than I otherwise would have been exposed to them, which has been central to my growth in character as I’ve gotten older because I realized early that the world is so much bigger than I am, and that no matter what I think, I still have a lot more to learn.

‘I’ve found my voice’

By Joel Davies

When you hear the saying “I found my voice,” what does that mean to you, and how does that carry significance?

For any average person, you’ve probably had a strong voice since, well, when you first started talking. Me however, that was different, when I realized that the voice I thought I had wasn’t there.

I’m not talking about just talking, like I’m doing now, but the courage to echo your voice through the minds of individuals. This realization started all the way back in kindergarten, myself unable to muster the strength to tell a girl to quit writing in pencil on my school pants.

It seems simple enough, just firmly tell her to quit, but for an anxious schoolboy like myself, it was like climbing Mt. Everest. I couldn’t do it, and all throughout elementary and middle school, I battled this problem, and let anyone figuratively just “write on my pants,” like how it all began.

Until one day, I’d had enough. I was in seventh grade then, and remember distinctly fearing having to face my tormenters. So, with a sudden boost of confidence, I told my PE teacher that I just couldn’t play with them due to their harassment.

To my surprise, it worked.

The next day, I got to be by myself, which is exactly what I asked for. This to me was the first time I noticed that I did have a voice. It shone through my fear, and helped me live another day.

So, how does this all relate to being here? Well, now that I have this voice, I can become the leader I’ve always wanted to be, lead fruitful discussions, and advance in this new era. I can confidently give a speech without fear and holding back, just like I’m doing now.

Even at SHS I notice an impact, as I have stepped up in various clubs to show my involvement and opinion, such as the Environmental or GSA club. I try, even if not often, to give ideas which could benefit further conversations. So, by saying “I found my voice,” it carries meaning far greater than what I could have ever asked for.

Be ‘open-minded and positive’

By Olivia Dagenhart

Hello. My name is Olivia Dagenhart and I am a senior at Salisbury High School.

At the age of 5, I began my career as a competitive gymnast. From three-hour practices each day to gymnastics meets on the weekend, I learned the values of discipline, time management, and hard work.

This sport pushed me to reach for success in all areas of life, and that being ambitious is one of the most rewarding qualities. Furthermore, I moved to competitive cheerleading at the age of 10, where I was placed on the two highest-level teams at the gym, with girls that were much older than I.

With competitions all over the East Coast and practice exceeding 10 hours a week, I learned to juggle academic success, exemplary character, and both physical and mental endurance.

The quote, “you will never grow if you stay inside your comfort zone,” has encouraged me to face new challenges and surround myself with successful, determined individuals.

My experience as a competitive cheerleader has led me to reach new heights in everything I do. At Salisbury High, for example, I have immersed myself in as many clubs, extracurricular activities, and advanced placement classes as possible.

Through competitive gymnastics and cheerleading, I learned how important it is to be open-minded and positive even when things do not go as planned. This realization has transformed my life and sparked a desire within me to create goals and reach them, so that I can attend any university, pursue any career, and make a difference in the lives of those around me.

Experience inspires drive to learn

By Mary-Catherine Berger

My name is Mary-Catherine Berger. This past school year I was invited to represent North Carolina as a delegate at the Congress for Future Medical Leaders in Boston, Massachusetts, a fantastic honor.

At this congress I was introduced to high-achieving students from all across the nation who planned to enter the medical field. We spent three days hearing from a number of world-renowned doctors, medical scientists, patients, prodigies and motivators.

It was incredible, tangibly seeing what I could become someday, the changes I could make in the world; this experience relit the fires of motivation in me, reset my focus and enlightened the long-term goals that I had lost sight of in the midst of the stresses and short-term thinking of high school.

Not only did I learn the science side of medicine, but I also saw the fantastic things medicine can do, learned how to be a better student, worker, and all around person, and became inspired to broaden my horizons in the long run.

One speaker who really touched me was Carmen Tarleton, one of the world’s first full facial transplant recipients. After her ex-husband doused her in industrial grade lye, resulting in permanent disfigurement and disability despite multiple surgeries to repair the damage, as well as psychological effects from the attack.

Carmen lives by an ideology of forgiveness, happiness, and acceptance. Not only was the medical side of her story fascinating, but her beliefs and her optimism, despite the horrific experience, put a lot of things into perspective for me and inspired me to live by a similar standard. Hers was just one of multiple stories that touched parts of me that had previously been left unexplored.

I will forever be grateful for the incredible opportunity, one that I will be repeating this summer as an alumni volunteer.

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