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From Surviving to Thriving

The following is an excerpt from an essay on leadership written by a student in the Johnson Scholars Program, a college readiness program that is a partnership between the School District of Palm Beach County, Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. His essay offers insights into the struggles many high school students are facing today. We will feature other student authors in the coming weeks.

On March 8, 2000, at approximately 3:30 p.m. the world welcomed a baby boy named Sharad Vashawn Jones. Little did my family know, I would unfortunately contract pneumonia shortly after. With the proper treatment and care I needed, I pulled through and survived. For the rest of my life, survival would be my best friend.

EKG print outAt 2 years of age I, for the second time, came down with pneumonia. Only this time I had to be admitted to the hospital for a week. A couple of years later I would be diagnosed with asthma, something that ran in my family. One year around Mother’s Day, my lungs decided to suffer an asthma attack. Sitting at the dining table hooked to a nebulizer, I was lucky to have caught it early and was able to notify my parents before it spiraled out of control. Succumbing to an asthma attack brings on immediate feeling of a pressure so immense that catching my breath was almost impossible. That event left me stranded in the moment and it felt as though no one could help me. Survival is a virtue I know much too well.

Time flies by and in the blink of an eye high school is welcomed with beckoning arms. With high school came many things like prom, applying for colleges, and for me, coming to terms with my sexuality. I knew I couldn’t hide it forever. After three years, with the help of some loving confidants, I was able to share the truth with my parents who, even after hearing what had been burdening me for so long, loved me just the same. Facing those in high school was much tougher, though. The rumors spread like a wildfire across the school and the mumbling in the halls seemed to get louder every day. Slowly but surely, the truth came out and although I had lots of support, there were still those who weren’t as open minded. Through the name calling and disrespect, however, I could see a glimmer of light telling me not to give up.

closeup of a book, pencil and pad of paperThough there were many times I wanted to bury my head and surrender, I knew there was more for me in life. All odds were against me but I kept my head up and prospered throughout high school and ended up a full time dual enrolled college student at age 17. This was unheard of in my family and sparked something in me that gave me hope. I see the brewing potential in my younger siblings and them looking up to me and admiring me as their role model and it is an indescribable feeling. I not only survived but thrived in the face of doubt, and I know now that nothing will ever be able to hold me back from my true potential.

Leadership to me is not a characteristic but a lifestyle. It means being comfortable enough with yourself to not only lead you but to lead others as well. It means knowing when to put others’ needs before yours but not neglecting yourself in the process. Leadership is making sacrifices to benefit the greater good at all times. It’s integrity, loyalty, trustworthiness, and most importantly it’s honesty. It’s not about what you do when everyone is looking, it’s what you do when no one is looking. Leadership is something I always had growing up but never knew the name for it. Once I was old enough to realize that I had the power to influence people and persuade them to do the right thing, I knew that all my struggles happened for a reason and that there was a plan for me. This is only the beginning of my journey and the world better make way.

Sharad V. Jones is a senior at Lake Worth Community High School in Lake Worth, Florida. Through dual enrollment, he will finish high school with not only a diploma but also an associate’s degree. He plans to transfer to a state university and major in biology or forensics.