sam wilcox; people

I met Sam through a week long experience called LeaderShape at Auburn that was centered around Global Issues and how students can change the world. He has an incredible fire to help people and is the kind of person you could listen to talk for hours. His entry is exactly the kind of inspiration that I hope people take to heart and that produces action.

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Who am I? I am someone who believes in people.  I believe people have an overlooked and often forgotten ability to adapt and explore.  The summer between sophomore and junior year of high school—at the age of sixteen—I chose to travel by bicycle across America; 4,400 miles from Yorktown, Virginia, to Newport, Oregon.  For two and a half months I lived at the mercy of the elements and the people along the way.  When in need, strangers invited me into their homes for dinner or a shower and more than once gave me directions or an emergency ride to the nearest bike shop.  I did not take my trip to find myself; I took my trip to find people.  I do not like to sit back and just take life as it comes; I refuse to be another passive person uninterested in the world around them. 

 I chose to take a bike instead of a car because I wanted to make connections with people, and I learned that there is no more intimate way to discover one’s country than by bike.  I wanted to learn about America from the perspective of the individuals I met, so I decided to say a simple hello or some attempt at conversation with everyone in passing.  Sometimes that greeting turned into a meal or a Popsicle, and if given the chance people opened up their lives to me.  I talked to gas station attendants about their marriages, hotel housekeeping at the Laundromat about the proper way to wash a combination of spandex, cotton, and a red blanket in one load, and Kentucky farmers about the process of growing soy and tobacco.  I encountered American charity when a Sunday morning church service in Vesuvius, Virginia ended with the congregation insisting I accept the contents of the collection plate.  Another time, thousands of miles later, I sat at a table with a Mexican immigrant in Sugar City, Colorado listening to him talk in a mixture of English and Spanish about how he lost his family and is now working three jobs so he can retire to Mexico when he is older.  The diversity, not only racially but socioeconomically, and the unselfishness of the American people never ceased to amaze me.

I realized that Americans are some of the most generous and warmhearted people, even though they are stereotyped otherwise.  I was taken in by churches and by people who could only offer a simple patch of grass, behind their mobile home, to pitch a tent on; I was given money by people who probably gave up their next week’s grocery money but refused to let me go without it.  This intense hospitality, taught me to appreciate the opportunities I have, and to cherish life as presented to me.  Traveling by bicycle isn’t always fun or easy.  Along the way, I learned to be determined and resourceful, but traveling by bicycle also inspires an appreciation of the little things—the crest of a hill, a soft tailwind, a scoop of homemade ice cream, or the spray of a lawn hose—that are too often ignored.    

I learned that wearing tight fitting bike shorts is an excellent way to meet local women, but also invites a lot of unwanted attention from rural town sheriffs.  I learned that there is really no such thing as a closing time if you beg enough, and it is better to beg for forgiveness rather than permission.  I learned there is no such thing as too big a burger, and there is no such thing as too comfortable a bike seat.  I learned that if there is a fork in the road the correct way is always uphill and one is never lost but rather taking the scenic route.  I learned that people want to be a part of something bigger, not only for themselves, but to help others achieve their goals.  Farmers, mechanics, and waiters taught me to embrace life and appreciate the opportunities I have been afforded.  Life cannot be compared to a bike race, but rather a long cycling tour.  Life is beautiful, erratic, and always straight into a head wind, but when prepared and helped along the way, life is a stunning and breathtaking ride.  I do not define myself by a long list of characteristics, but by a list of experiences that have taught me to live humbly and serve others.  This is who I am, and what I am passionate about.

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 Sam Wilcox
20 years old
Brentwood, Tennessee
August 14, 2013

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summer heath; making a difference

Summer has a truly extraordinary story that has led to her developing her passion into something bigger than herself. It’s people like her that made me do the passion project. Passion is the genesis of genius, and her passion encouraged her to put herself out there in the world and one day she’ll do something truly spectacular.

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Having a passion is something you live by, something you almost have to do each day of your life. My passion is making a difference. This can be done in so many ways and all of them are as important as the next one. My passion for making a difference has always been with simply being nice to someone, giving to the community, volunteering, raising money for charities, anything that takes time out of my schedule to help others and I’ve always done it with a huge smile on my face.  But recently I have found the two things that I NEED to make a difference in, children and cancer, especially when the two are combined.  I would do anything for a child, jump in front of a car or just answer an imaginary phone. Children are god’s gift and they need to be treated as little gifts, I would do anything just to make a child smile.

On July 1, 2013 I went in for a regular eye appointment to get new glasses, came out with so much more. I was told one of the hardest things I have had to hear, I have a tumor. A cancerous tumor. Ocular Melanoma, this is a very rare cancer, it happens to 6 out of a million people, and tends to happen to older people, so having this at 19 years old is astonishing. Learning what had to be done I swallowed all the fear and had to push on. Within a week I was somehow able to get into the best doctors in the world for eye cancers, Dr. Shields, the husband and wife team who literally write the textbooks on this procedure and the cancer itself. 

My treatment was fairly easy, radiation directly in my eye for 5 days straight, now I cannot tell you how this went. Because I hardly remember it. I remember feeling uncomfortable and in pain, but my mother also tells me I was talking to fairies. So I made it the best I could.  Even when I was the patient I still wanted to help others, I received so many gift baskets, and care packages full of sweets that I knew I couldn’t eat, nor could I have. And as appreciative and heartwarming each and every gift was to me, I knew there was more I could do with them then just gain extra weight. 

So what did I do while trapped in the room during radiation? I made little gift baskets to give out to others, homeless people, the lovely ladies who cleaned our room, the doctors and the staff. I wanted to show my appreciation and make their day just a little better. It’s the little things that matter. And one of the smallest but the most effective thing a person can do to help someone’s day is to smile, even when you’re not happy and everything crumbles you HAVE to keep smiling! I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to breakdown and cry, but I can’t because it will hurt people, especially my mama. And I cannot do that. Smiles are contagious you have to look at everything with a positive reason, so mine was cancer. How is that positive?! For the past month I have been trying to find my reason, granted I found a bunch of little ones, but on August 1, 2013 I found my huge one, ironically it was exactly a month after I was diagnosed. On this day while talking about everything that’s happened in the past month something clicked and hit me. After school I want to go and get my certificate to be able to teach to sick children in hospitals or at home. Children are my world, teaching is my passion and cancer is the life I have to live. I am doing as much now as I can to help bring awareness to cancer and finding a cure, and when children have cancer it pushes me even more. I want to bring smiles to these children’s faces, I want them to feel like they are normal, because we all are facing our own battles.  

 Summer Heath
20 years old
Cornelius, NC
August 10, 2013

To continue to follow Summer’s inspirational journey, check out her blog http://summerheath.wordpress.com

laura duarte; children

Laura was my best friend in second grade until she moved back to South America right before our third grade year. It’s been so incredible to keep in touch with her over facebook and especially for her to take part in the passion project. Just goes to show how amazing friendship is whether you’re 8 or 80 you can still meet someone who will be in your life forever!
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The smell of recently cut grass, the power of words, the difference a pinch of salt or a few drops of vanilla can make in a dish, the pain in your stomach after laughing for a really long time… Sometimes we take these things for granted and ignore the beautiful impact details have on the broader picture. This is why passions are so important. They help us remember the smells, tastes, views, people, moments and feelings that give color to our days. How do you know if you’re truly passionate about something? For some, it only takes one kick to know their passion is soccer, or one recital to know their passion is dance.  For others, like me, passions build up as time passes and experiences take place. Passions are a very personal matter but they all have one thing in common: they make us feel different, fuller, alive. I like many things but nothing makes me feel as fulfilled as being around children.  They definitely bring out the best in me.  When I’m around kids, my patience seems unlimited, I never get tired of their many questions, or annoyed at their silly games. I like to watch them be with their big eyes, curious minds and vivid imagination. Their authentic laughs and innocent thoughts somehow make me feel hopeful. I like to think children are the medicine of the world. They are still exempt from the silly rules society impose on us. When they eat, they’re more concerned about enjoying the meal than looking proper. When they slurp on straws, it’s because that last zip of soda is as important as the rest. More than my passion, I consider them to be my heroes because they are constantly teaching me, or better yet reminding me things I once knew or thought and forgot as I got older.
 “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
George Bernard Shaw
Laura Duarte
19 years old
Bogotá, Colombia
August 8, 2013

kyle marchuk; mental health awareness

This past year I had Kyle as my Freshman Leadership Program Assistant Director and he played a huge part in shaping my first year at Auburn. He’s an incredible role model and is the kind of person that can make you feel at home right away and make anything fun! I know his organization, Active Minds, will make a huge impact on Auburn’s campus and if you’re interested you can contact him at kmm0048@auburn.edu!

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 I am passionate about many things in my life: faith, family, friends, sports, and even more. Like all things that people are passionate about, I love to be a part of those things and they somehow shape the man I am and have become. One passion that has arisen in the past couple years is my passion for mental health awareness. This passion started over a year ago when one of my childhood friends, Keller, committed suicide. He felt the overwhelming pressures of college and suffered from a well-masked depression that he did not reach out to anyone about. From that, he found his only “escape” and it devastated my friends and my community and ever since then I have wanted to bring awareness to this kind of situation and other mental health issues and pressures that are a part of the college life. All college students can feel stressed and anxious about a variety of things in college, whether that be a test, a deadline, social pressure, or anything else of the sort. No one deserves to suffer in silence and suffer alone. There is support out there for all people and there is a place for people not to be alone. 

        I think about Keller every single day and I pray that he has made it to heaven.  I tell his story not for sympathy, but to send a message to those out there who may know someone or they themselves might be in a situation like such and they know not where to go. I have learned from my unfortunate past and the tragic experience of what I have gone through and I am doing my best to turn it into positive change for the Auburn community and hopefully beyond that. 
        
        From my passion for mental health awareness, I decided I wanted to take action and try to make change in the “college world” that many young adults and students have taken part in. I am currently in the process of starting a new campus organization called Active Minds at Auburn. Active Minds Inc. is a national organization with chapters at over 350 colleges. The purpose of Active Minds is to promote mental health awareness, educate people on mental health disorders, create a stress free environment for students to be a part of, hold fun campus events, and more. I hope this campus organization can make an impact on Auburn’s campus and on other campuses both regionally and nationally. It is a conversation that students need to be having with one another and a topic that students need to know more about.
        
        I believe we live in a world where people do really care for one another and that there is a God who watches over us and blesses us every day with the life he has given us. We all have a role in God’s glorious plan, and though we may not know it yet, we are called to something greater and I think this is something that I am called to do at this point in my life. I hope Active Minds and other organization like it achieve their goal of reducing the stigma surrounding mental health awareness. I want to contribute my passion to this vision and help bring about a positive change in the world we live in today. Thank you for letting me be a part of #thePassionProject!

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This is a picture of Keller and I in the first grade I believe at one of our first (of many) Braves games together. I’ve grown up with him since I was about 2 years old. We were like brothers in a sense.  

For more information on Active Minds you can follow their website activeminds.org.