It was daunting when I walked onto the University of North Florida campus at age 15 after graduating from a private Christian school in Jacksonville and I was unprepared for the ways in which UNF would quite literally transform my life.
But transform it, it did. From my professors to my classes to my extracurricular activities to my friendships, my entire life changed and opportunities I never knew existed opened to me.
UNF faculty members became more than mentors and advisers, they became trusted friends and powerful allies who helped me win a Rotary Club Ambassadorial Scholarship to Egypt for six months. Everything about that experience changed me. Flying to Egypt, finding a flat, arranging to pay bills in a foreign language and creating a social life were far more overwhelming than the exodus from high school to college at age 15. I’m only beginning to understand the impact of that experience on my thinking, my planning and my reactions to the world around me. I returned to the United States grateful, ever so grateful for the privileges and safety we take for granted and cognizant of a world living without those luxuries.
But Egypt has been only one of several transformational experiences I’ve enjoyed since attending UNF. I’ve worked in Washington, D.C. with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and for Senator Mel Martinez as a paid intern. I was selected as one of Governor Charlie Crist’s appointments to the Gubernatorial Fellows Program, a prestigious opportunity for me to work in Tallahassee for a year before entering law school. With the transition to Governor Rick Scott, I’m assisting in the writing of policy and legislation on child welfare reform in Florida.
I am by far proudest of this time in my life because of the opportunity to write legislation that affects the lives of Florida's most vulnerable, afflicted and hurt children. These are children who have suffered and died from abuse, torture and neglect. It's about the kids in foster care, in state care, whose lives will be dramatically improved if the bill I helped write is ultimately adopted.
The experience in Tallahassee builds on my experiences on campus. I was UNF’s Truman Scholarship nominee, appointed to office in Student Government, elected president of the Pre-Law Students Society, participated in Students for International Progress and was a Presidential Envoy. I even accompanied UNF Distinguished Visiting Scholar and former ambassador Nancy Soderberg to present policy recommendations on Somalia to high-level State and Defense Department officials and the CIA Africa team.
All of this would not have been possible without UNF. My time at UNF was exhilarating, impactful, busy and fun from beginning to end. As the result of relationships I formed with my professors and administrators, I was able to take advantage of many opportunities I may not have had elsewhere. Without UNF, I would have been just another college student. Because of UNF, I was given the tools, support, guidance and direction to achieve extraordinary successes and start my life in the strongest way possible.