It’s the dead of January. Beads of perspiration collect at my forehead. I’m waddling up a snowy hill at boardingschool in an over-sized jacket that looks like it belongs more to Tenzing Norgay on his summits to Mount Everestor to Neil Armstrong in the frigidity of space. Not familiar with the weather in New England, my mom packs forAntarctica.

Still, I fancy myself an explorer. As frigid air wicks the sweat on my face, I feel the rush of adventure -the possibility of failure, but also spectacular discovery.My world is one of dazzling contrast.I am the descendant of generations of farm workers in California’s Central Valley. I grew up on a military base inthe Mojave Desert. There is no lush vegetation, no breathtaking skyline, and little water. The only clouds in sightare the clouds of dust that careen their way through creosote bushes and sand. The sun beats down on myhometown and covers the 1950’s Quonset huts of my school in a blanket of dry heat.

At night, when you look up atthe stars from a dirt road, you are treated to a sensation I can only describe as falling into a galaxy. I hold up starguides with cold hands against the backdrop of Mojave skies with a sense of pure, unfettered wonder.I live over 100 miles from the nearest city. I drive 5 hours to a science fair that no one from home has heard of. Ibuild my own telescope. I fill over fourteen journals. I build radios in the garage. When there is no one to show mehow, I fight for every opportunity to explore what excites me.

I move across the country to boarding school. I’m trudging up a metaphorical hill in weather I was never quiteprepared for: a desert kid caught in a blizzard. My eyes still sparkle for the subjects I love.

I have sturdy boots thathave never failed me. I believe in myself against spectacular, irrational, odds.I never forget where I come from. I never forget the hours spent searching the internet for opportunities.

I neverforget creating the ones that didn’t exist. I step back and forth between two communities that, at times, seemworlds apart. I begin a science research group at my new school to help other kids like me find resources to grow,and inspire them to take advantage of each one. I believe that the greatest usage of one’s life is to build somethingthat will outlast it.I keep building.The mountains ahead call.

The cold is nipping my oversized-coat, but I don’t notice. It is the challenge that excitesmy spirit. My world is one of rural desert towns and snowy hills, of public school and boarding school, of journalsand telescopes, of taking and giving back. What seems a series of impossible contradictions gives rise to the verydetermination and grit I bring to everything I do.

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I'm Colleen!

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