It started the day I was suspended from middle school.
I had been hanging out with some girls and we had gotten into a disagreement. For me, coming to Tennessee after living in California, school was a big change. I didn’t know anyone, I felt left out, I wanted friends… so here I was hanging out with some kids who were acting turfy. We all wanted to “belong,” actually. But, regardless, causing trouble with each other wasn’t the way to show it.
That day, my mom came to get me. She was so mad. She’s a very religious person, someone who believes in the “Golden Rule” of treating people the way you want to be treated yourself. That day, when she said we all have the same blood and I better learn to get along with people, something changed in me.
I knew this wasn’t who I wanted to be.
I knew I had to find a different path to make this world a better place and to help people, rather than put them down or be part of disagreements—I just wasn’t sure how.
So when I got to high school and learned about Lookout Mountain Conservancy’s Intern & Leadership program I decided to sign up. To be honest, I almost didn’t enroll as I hated getting dirty and being around bugs. You see, you have to volunteer with the program before you are accepted—those long three days were no joke.
During my volunteer time I wasn’t that impressed. It was hard work. I was out there on the Mountain, and it was hot and buggy. There might be snakes. We were hauling stones to create stairs and cutting new trails through the brush, with heavy tools.
But then I saw the garden.
It’s a beautiful garden, where we learn how to grow food. We get to share the food with each other and learn how to prepare the vegetables. The view from the garden is inspiring too—I can see over the valley, past the Tennessee River.
My dad loves to garden. So I thought, I’ll give it a try.
With time comes change
That was when I was entering my sophomore year. Now, with two years under my belt, I’ve figured out what I want to do and how to do just what my mom said: make the world a better place, learn to love and inspire others. I’ve decided that I want to be a general surgeon.
My realization came as a result of this program. One of the activities we do as the Leadership Interns is to “job shadow” professionals in Chattanooga who volunteer their time to show us what their jobs are like. I was fortunate to “job shadow” a number of doctors at the new hospital in town, including those working with ultrasound, sleep research, and anesthesiology. I realized that this was a career I could do, helping people is something that felt right to me.
It brought me focus.
I’ve been a good student in the past, but now I had a direction and reason to push harder and not be distracted by the “social stuff” in high school.
And that’s what this program does.
You learn to focus. It teaches you to put school first, to work hard in school, and learn to participate. When you want to give up, Miss Robyn and the Conservancy staff encourage you to find solutions—to keep trying, to ask questions, and show you care. You have to look at yourself and see what is holding you back.
In school, I’ve always been quiet. I wasn’t comfortable speaking out and having folks look at me. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. But up on the Mountain, I became more comfortable leading. I began to feel more at ease asking questions and talking to others.
Every day we need to talk to our peers, figure out how to motivate a team, and problem-solve. We have to learn how to have empathy for others and help them through a rough day.
And that allowed me to excel at school, as well as becoming a better person. I now focus on finding the things I have in common with others and looking for the good in people. As I enter my senior year, I have the confidence to speak up and to offer help to others. I know medical school is a long journey but I’m going to take it one step at a time, just like we do up on the Mountain.