It all started in New Jersey. My hometown is surrounded by a bunch of other small towns in a remote area known as The Middle of Nowhere. In elementary school, I walked down our endless dirt driveway to get to the bus stop. We lived in the mountains, and on a clear day you could see New York City. There were a lot of woods and deer and woods and horses and farms and sprawling fields. And then there were more woods.
Which is nice when you're older and you go back to visit and appreciate nature and all. But growing up there was beyond boring. Although I was raised in the country, I've always been a city girl at heart. So I focused my creative energy on visualizing the kind of life I wanted to live when my real life started. I made a lot of wishes about how I wanted my future life to be. I couldn't wait to graduate and go away to college.
The cool thing about college is that you can totally reinvent yourself once you get there. If you want to be a different person, college is the perfect opportunity to make that happen. Because dude! No one knows you there yet. So you can be the person you've always wanted to be. You can be the best version of yourself and create a shiny new life. How sweet is that?
Not that you have to wait until college to be your most excellent self. Every day is an opportunity to become a better person - someone who tries to always be a friendly neighbor and does what they can to make the world a more peaceful place.
I was an outsider. Kids picked on me for being a nerd and doing weird things like writing song lyrics all over my Keds, or being the only one laughing in class when no one else thought it was funny, or actually loving science. Now I own my weirdness because everyone knows that outsiders grow up to be the most successful, creative, loving people. But it was lonely at the time. I don't have any brothers or sisters, so I spent tons of time alone growing up. I had my group of friends, but I didn't really feel like any of them got me. I was trying to hide some embarrassing things about my life and couldn't connect with them as much as I wanted to. Books were my true friends. I would read my favorite books so many times the pages would start to fall out. I was so thankful that the authors wrote those books, that their characters inspired me to never give up.
Giving back to the community is something I've always felt really strongly about. I believe in karma, that if you put positive energy out into the Universe, you are creating positive energy in your own life. It was easy for me to identify with others who needed help in some way, and that's how my passion for volunteer work originated. I've been a hospital candy striper, a Girl Scout leader-in-training, and the arts & crafts director at a sleep-away camp for kids affected by AIDS. I was a buddy and home helper at ActionAIDS in Philadelphia and a community outreach educator and curriculum developer at GMHC in New York. Currently I am a RAKtivist with the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.
I spent a lot of time imagining my ideal life and how I could create that life when I grew up. These dreams motivated me to work hard so I could go to an excellent university. Kicking academic butt really does open doors for you, even ones that you never knew existed. When I got into the University of Pennsylvania, it finally felt like my real life was starting. And living in Philadelphia rocked my world because I'd wanted to live in a city for so long.