Winning Essay by Christian E., Harding University
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There have been many people in my life that have inspired me to be the best I can be, to never give up, and to do my best in all things. People of character and honesty that I trust to give me guidance through the adversities I have faced.

I walked into Mrs. Jill Nickerson's kindergarten class at the age of 6. From the very beginning she was committed to helping me learn. My name is Kelly Evans, and I have Autism, but autism doesn't have me. Mrs. Nickerson has been one of the most influential people in my life to help me realize this. She taught me I could be more than what others told me I could be, and that I had great potential to do anything I put my mind to. She taught me in such a way that I was able to learn my way. She showed me that even though I learned differently than others, I could still be successful. Mrs. Nickerson noticed special traits in me that later were found to relate to my Autism. She helped me to develop these traits and use them to assist me in areas that were more difficult.

Mrs. Nickerson continued to look out for me even after that first year. Over the last 12 years she has continued to be my advocate helping me in times of need. Mrs. Nickerson is currently my High School counselor, and checks on my progress regularly. She lets me know that she believes in me, and how proud of me she is.

Mrs. Nickerson is a roll model not just for boys or girls, not just for African Americans, but for all students. She genuinely cares for all students, their well being, and their futures. She has inspired me to be an advocate for other individuals with Autism, and to mentor young Autistic children. I hope to take all that she has taught me and instilled in my heart, and be that person for students in the future. If one day I can look back on a life of teaching and coaching children, I hope her legacy will be seen through me.

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