My name is Ava “Alex” Burnell, I attended the Women and Leadership course at Summer@Brown 2011, and I am a completely different person because of it.
I could sit here and write pages and pages filled with overly descriptive paragraphs about every single little detail and aspect of my trip this summer. But let’s face it, most people don’t really care about it enough to have the patience to read that much; plus, that sort of ruins it for any other students reading this who want to go next summer. The surprise of not knowing all of details is what makes it so exciting for us students. So I will leave those spaces for them to fill in. The little things are always more special when you discover them yourself.
I am going to expand on the 3 main things that I feel have left the biggest impact on me. The first thing is community. The second thing is knowledge. The final thing is personal courage.
The community at Brown was unbelievable and left me in complete awe. The positivity around the entire campus was absolutely overwhelming. No matter where I was at any time, I felt welcome. People who didn’t even know me and had just seen me around would stop me and have friendly conversations with me. I would say about 99% of the time, if I passed by anyone on campus, including students I didn’t even know, I would at least get a smile and a wave or a cheerful “Goodmorning!” Little things like that actually greatly improve quality of life. During my stay at Brown I was more jovial and happy to be alive than ever. I found myself appreciating every little thing that would normally be easy to take for granted. I appreciated the random songs my roommate would play. I appreciated the quiet humming sound that the fan in our room made. I appreciated the cold showers at the end of a hot evening. I appreciated just being able to breathe clean air. Being surrounded by people who cared about each other and supported each other really made me feel like part of a big family. I felt like I had a place where I knew I belonged, they made me feel like I could do anything. They made me feel like I really could be a leader and change the world. I have made friends that I am of course still in touch with and that I could see myself being lifelong friends with. I know I can always call them whenever I’m bored and want to chat, if I ever want to have an intellectual conversation, or if I just have a bad day and need someone to talk to. I made 20 new best friends and they are now a big part of my motivation to reach for the stars until I get my dreams. I am confident that they will support me every step of the way, just like I will to for them.
I learned so much on this trip that I feel like a completely different person. There are some things you have to learn from personal experience. I learned both inside and outside of class. It was very easy to apply the knowledge we received in class into the real world. The one that I think meant the most to me was that in class we always talked about making sure to be inclusive, and to be conscious about when we are not being inclusive. This basically means to include everyone in the community and to reach out to those who feel out of place. I think that is so important because everyone goes through a time when they are trying to find out where they belong and they can get really sad if they are struggling to find it. I see girls sitting by themselves in high school all the time and people almost never reach out to them or try to spend time with them. As soon as I realized that, my attitude completely changed and whenever I was in the dining hall with my friend and saw someone by themselves I would say “Hey, let’s go sit with them.” One of the first times I did that, my friend from class said “I’m so glad I met someone who actually does that. At my school nobody even does anything about it or tries to reach out to people who are alone.” When she said that I realized how rare it is that people compulsively feel the need to take care of others. That is something I developed in my class. I made many friends through this way of reaching out to people.
I gained a great deal of confidence and personal courage. This class required public speaking and being able to openly express your feelings. When I was presenting to my class, I realized that public speaking is just like a normal conversation but with a few more eyes on you. What I liked about Kisa and Jen Madden and Dean Rose was that they didn’t try to shove a specific speaking style down our throats. They showed us examples of good public speaking and ways of planning a speech and asked us to go with whatever works best for us. I have learned to sound more confident when I am speaking about things I am passionate about which is crucial because if I sound sure of myself, it will be easier for others to believe in me too.
I want to take everything I’ve learned and use it to make my community a better place. I want to teach others the importance of taking care of everyone around them. I want to show people how much better life can be with just a little more effort and a positive attitude. My life is forever changed by Summer@Brown. I will never, ever forget this experience. Any success I have in the future can without a doubt be credited to those 2 weeks of my life. Which were quite possibly the best 2 weeks I’ve ever had.
As far as college goes, this has not changed my view on my application process. I adored my time at Brown, but seeing how lucky we are to have the change to get and education and to have that great time reminded me that there are so many people without that opportunity. This made me want to go to West Point even more so that I can be a soldier and fight for freedom until ever y single human being has that right to learn. The great experiences I had at Brown made me even more willing to fight for those who are robbed of those kinds of experiences. However, if I don’t get into West Point and for some reason can’t enlist then Brown University will definitely be on the top of my list.
Thank you to the Ivy League Connection, the donors, the WCCUSD school board, the leader fellows, the RA’s, my parents, all of the girls in Harkness, Guy Sanchez, the chaperones, our guest speakers, Kisa Takesue, Jen Madden, the amazing Dean Rose, and everyone else who made this trip possible and who made it the experience of a lifetime. It has left an impact on my life that will never go away. You guys have helped make me into a better person; a new and improved Alex.