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Wilson’s Impact

by Jamie Woodard

A year after my best friend, Wilson, a Portuguese water dog,  was put to sleep, I found salvation at the Jersey Animal Coalition. The minute I stepped into this shelter, the odors of cat litter and wet dogs welcomed me with an intensity that underscored my calling. That day I met my friend Cinnamon, a dog part of an unwanted litter. I walked by his cage and saw the discontent behind his glassy eyes. I watched him helplessly try to paw his way through his crate, trying to get outside for the first time all day. My relationship with Cinnamon exposed me to the everyday difficulties of running an animal shelter. New animals arrived daily, each with their own story. Without a home, these animals were completely dependent on us, which was a disturbing realization. A beagle needs us to save him from an abusive owner, and the runt of a litter needs to be fed until being adopted. The shelter increased my awareness of the world’s cruelty, but also exposed me to ways to help its victims.

Jamie Woodard is a freshman at Georgetown and a 2013 graduate of The Peddie School.

A Source of Sensitivity

by Nicole Hamilton

The three of us were friends and known athletes on campus. We were talking as we stretched for the first day of relay practice, when a stranger stepped forward to join us. Her name was Taylor. I instantly saw that this freshman was intimidated. Coach asked us to go on a quick warm-up lap and my two friends continued to joke about our coach’s nerdy, velcro sneakers, as if Taylor was invisible. The girl did not even a crack a smile.  So I slowed down a little to jog next to Taylor and quietly asked, “Do you think the coach needs to get rid of his sneakers?”

And just like that, she started to laugh.

I owe that moment to Gary. He is my big brother-three years my senior and nine inches taller. Yet, in many ways I am his older sister, which makes me dread driving him to our local Best Buy. Today he is buying a new copy of Madden. Gary politely asks the cashier how his day is going and waits for him to reply. The cashier barely acknowledges the courtesy and only says, “$21.98.” I nonchalantly glance behind us and to my embarrassment, a line forms. The cashier and the people in line impatiently stare at my brother as he slowly pulls the money out of his wallet and lays the bills on the counter. When he double checks his counting, I hear audible sighs of exasperation from the woman next in line and the man next to her.

I really want to walk away from the register and pretend to admire the batteries hanging on the wall, while Gary finishes his business. He is oblivious to the impatience of people behind us and the annoyance in the cashier’s eyes. I always stay close by to make sure that he does not get cheated or answer any questions that the cashier might have. I also do not want to embarrass him by taking over his wallet. After the ordeal of handing over the last dollar, the cashier says that Gary needs another dollar. The woman once again loudly groans. I shoot her a death stare and open up my wallet, then hand the cashier a single.

Gary can’t help it. My big brother is autistic.

Gary and I attended the same school, but lived in different worlds.  Gary was known for his athletic prowess, while I am known not just for my athletic talents, but for my dedication to my school work. My combination of strong student and athlete places me in a small category known as the smart jocks. As a member of this circle, I deal with both ends of the social spectrum. I spend a majority of my school day in classes with students who are academically the strongest in our school. After school, I am with my teammates at practices, tournaments, and smoothie shops. In each crowd, I hear an arrogance that I never embrace. This makes me the one to raise an eyebrow or scold a friend who easily uses words like “stupid”  or “retard.”  As Gary’s sister, I know his pain when someone directs one of these demeaning terms his way.

Having an autistic brother has also turned me into a great listener. This skill enables me to be a strong peer mentor. After 7 years of training, I have finally attained the title of senior trainer for my school’s peer mentoring program, Natural Helpers. Students open up to me, even if I do not know them that well. All it takes is a quiet hallway and the welcome relief of a listening ear.

Gary’s autism has helped build my own inner strength. I’ve had to overcome my own embarrassment and insecurities, just like in Best Buy, in order to help him. It has also taught me to see people beyond first impressions and reputations. The gift of sensitivity has allowed me to help others by offering them support and empathy. In turn, I have learned so much about my friends, family, and often complete strangers. And I have Gary to thank for that.

Nicole Hamilton is a freshman at Georgetown and a 2013 graduate of Elwood-John H. Glenn High School.  

Lessons in Trying to Sail the Ship of Life

By Jamie Woodard

I knew I could own the Mediterranean with my Pacific Seacraft 37. I jumped aboard ready to sail the endless plain of blue sea and cruise through the white foam mountain tops. The confidence of a 15-year-old at the helm excited the passengers- until I screamed for help. The sails were unwinding from the masts because I really did not know how to sail. I skipped sailing lessons, thinking I could move with the wind. I finally confessed to passengers- livid with fear and screaming for their lives- while I wondered: why did I think it would be so easy to do this?

Fortunately, I never tried to sail the Mediterranean but my Moby Dick-like tale is a dramatization of that question. Why did I think I could solve problems by simply steering into a new world? More specifically, why did I think that all I needed was a boarding school to take me to Utopia?

I spent my Freshman year at Columbia High School with my lifelong friends. We had journeyed from story time to study hall with excitement toward entering the new world of high school together. Yet one huge problem emerged: they treated school differently than I. In biology, I took notes while they gave up on our teacher because of his speech impediment. During labs they shifted their attention from hypotheses to whatever would happen after the bell rang. I wanted to escape into an academically rigorous environment. I was ready for a new ship. Boarding school became the vessel of my dreams.

I began researching schools with a drive that was familiar to my parents. When I was eight years old, my twelve-year-old brother Alex was going to sleep away camp. I wanted to go too and my parents said I was “too young.” Really? I conducted my own research, discovered Camp Mason actually did allow kids my age, presented my findings and was soon heading to camp with Alex.

My boarding school research led me to Peddie where I became an eager sophomore. Academically, my research was on target with the kind of precision that made Camp Mason the perfect summer experience. I was not the lone note-taker and was enthralled by the discussions of The Kite Runner and the Taliban rule. I was immersed into the hearts of European revolutions. I loved the new academic life that challenged me in new ways. However the relationships I held with my lab partners vanished when class ended.

I left the familiar world of Columbia to be surrounded by 556 students– most of whom seemed to want to remain strangers to me. Dressed in their Easter colors, most passed by me with side-glances–many refusing my attempts to develop friendships. I lost my hopes for a utopian boarding school. Discouraged? Yes. Ready to give up? No way! I didn’t place the fate of my Peddie experience under the control of classmates. I had to control my own ship.

I found the right track, literally. Peddie’s indoor track became my new home. I ran from my dismays and toward new goals that drove me to one of my greatest rivalries and challenges; a great distraction from social dismay. Lizzie Edokwe had beaten me in six races since I began running track and the gaps were all fractions of a second. Last spring, I trained every day for the moment I would beat her in the last race of the year. The gun sounded; I heard the loose gravel fly behind me as I launched myself forward with the sun ruthlessly beating my neck. I held my head high focusing on the finish. There was only 200 meters separating me from success. Suddenly I didn’t see a victory, but the back of Lizzie’s taunting black uniform, staining the path ahead of me. I crossed the finish line with a personal record, but still second-best for the seventh time.

I may never beat Lizzie, but I embrace the progress gained from relentlessly trying. I sailed on my own sea of opportunities when my fellow teammates, enlightened by my progress, made me team captain and the faculty-student senate nominated me to be student-body president. I realized I am not defined by any social tribulations. It wasn’t easy to start a new life or lose a race but my efforts set me up for new personal records in avenues I’ve yet to imagine. Boarding school forced me to make my own way amidst the white waters and tsunamis. Now I may even sail the Mediterranean–after some lessons.

Jamie Woodard just started her freshman year at Georgetown University. She is a 2013 graduate of The Peddie School.