My name is Ronnie Nickols, I am a member of Louisville’s Class of 2019. I would like to share a bit about my journey over the past few years.
Growing up, to the surprise of many of the faculty here, I was extremely withdrawn. Despite being ambitious my whole life, I was too timid to raise my hand in class much less speak to one of my peers at recess. I lacked confidence and took the teasing of my classmates, telling myself that in middle school it will be better.
Middle school came and my shyness grew. My English teacher, knowing I wanted to be a journalist, told me that if that I went to a huge public school I would drown. I asked her for an alternative place where I could choose to swim rather than sink. She told me to look into an all-girls school and I learned about Louisville. I realized I would be going to a different school than all of my friends and be submerged in something entirely unfamiliar. I was shy, confused and overall a metaphorical blank piece of paper. I wanted that confidence, that poise, and most of all I wanted to be someone who had the capability to make a difference. I wanted to become myself.
My first year breezed by as I made new friends in classes whom I still cherish to this day. I pushed my comforts and joined the water polo and swim teams. I took an AP class and, for the first time, started to get a sense of comfort in my learning environment. I branched out with the school play and gained an interest in my history and language classes. I finally felt secure in my intelligence and, for the first time ever, I raised my hand in class.
Sophomore year I was asked to become an ambassador for the school. I found an ease in addressing my peers as well as my elders. I then realized how others struggled with their own insecurities on my sophomore retreat, and felt an actual connection with my classmates. My writing developed and was noticed by my history teacher, who asked me if I would like to join her Model United Nations club. Her recognition of my skills changed my life forever. At my first conference I was shaking more than the average Chihuahua and, as expected, barely spoke. I wanted to quit, I was not a public speaker. I attended the next conference with the same tentative feeling, and performed poorly as well. However, she somehow convinced me to do the last conference of the year. I prepared weeks in advance, memorized statistics, and wrote some of my best speeches. At that conference, I spoke with tenacity and made school history for winning first place or “best delegate” for the first time ever.
By joining the Focus Program at the beginning of my junior year, I was taught how to network. Just knowing how not to stutter in an interview and conduct a proper handshake gave me the kick-start I needed. However, what changed my perspective entirely on life itself was a Focus Program guest speaker who gave us the advice to walk through every open door.
Hearing that, I vowed to be the most active member of Model UN, and was appointed club president at the beginning of the year. I went to eight conferences and became infatuated with current events as I studied everything from human cloning to the proliferation of the small arms trade. I found my calling, to the shock of most of my family, in public speaking and politics rather than journalism. I morphed our club of 5 into a traveling team of 22 girls. Through these efforts, I have had the privilege of meeting hundreds of other accomplished individuals, and have built a network of other like-minded youths. I have drafted charters that my new allies and I sent to the UN and it has been nothing short of inspiring to see just how much impact teenagers can have.
Outsiders noticed my efforts including some of my dream universities. However, through service trips here, the interactions with the prodigious people I have met, and through researching the conditions of those both in our community and around the world, I realized that what I wanted to do the most was give back some of the dexterity the school and club had given me.
At the debut of my senior year, the biggest door of my life opened. The United States Air Force had taken note of my diplomatic ambitions and offered me a place in their branch of foreign intelligence. The confidence, knowledge, and leadership skills I had accumulated finally clicked into place, and at that moment, our gust speaker’s voice rang in my ears to walk through every open door. Taking her advice, I accepted the position.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude to every staff member who took the time to learn my name and check in with me, regardless if I had his/her class. Thank you all for being mentors, who not only taught me facts and figures, but how to make a positive impact using their curriculum. And, finally, thank you God for leading me to a school that took me in as a blank sheet of paper and through every little milestone throughout my time here slowly shaped me into a unique paper airplane.
And all I can feel right now is incredibly blessed that I have been given the platform to fly.