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Cara Clay

4425

Bold Points

3x

Nominee

1x

Finalist

1x

Winner

Bio

The room was so quiet…At least that’s what they told me. Until age two, I experienced hearing loss from otitis media. After undergoing surgery, I experienced speech delay due to hearing loss during pivotal months of development. After being misdiagnosed with autism & BIF and after being diagnosed with ADHD, I fortunately prevailed. Throughout my childhood, my family and I moved to Houston, TX; Baton Rouge,LA; Mobile, AL; Fayetteville, GA; and Herndon, VA (NoVA). In NoVA, I participated in my high school Speech & Debate team. Debate and my proximity to DC engendered my desire to pursue a career in public policy. I later applied my interdisciplinary interests to my undergraduate studies where I studied Economics, Geography, & French. I particularly became passionate about water policy in which I studied the decades-long tri-state water dispute over the ACT River Basin. My family’s background also informs my interest in policy. My parents were raised in Forkland & Union, AL, in the Black Belt region. My family has lived in Greene County for generations. This region is predominantly black and has a sordid history regarding race & economics. As a result of this history, my extended family has dealt with poverty & lack of educational opportunities. After graduation, I want to do advocacy, consulting, or government work. Whichever path I choose, I know that receiving scholarships would ease my financial burdens as I chase my dreams and pursue a career in public policy.

Education

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Master's degree program
2024 - 2026
  • Majors:
    • Public Policy Analysis

The University of Alabama

Bachelor's degree program
2016 - 2019
  • Majors:
    • Geography and Environmental Studies
    • Family and Consumer Economics and Related Studies

Miscellaneous

  • Desired degree level:

    Master's degree program

  • Graduate schools of interest:

  • Transfer schools of interest:

  • Majors of interest:

    • Public Policy Analysis
  • Not planning to go to medical school
  • Career

    • Dream career field:

      Public Policy

    • Dream career goals:

      I would love to do research in academia or a think tank. I'm also interested in advocacy work and/or working for the federal government.

    • Student Assistant

      Dean of Students Office-The University of Alabama
      2019 – 2019
    • Legal Secretary

      City of Birmingham- Office of the City Attorney
      2022 – 2022
    • Americorps VISTA

      Birmingham Land Bank Authority
      2021 – 20221 year

    Sports

    Dancing

    2003 – 20085 years

    Research

    • Economics

      International Finance (EC 431) course — Student
      2019 – 2019
    • Geography and Environmental Studies

      Natural Hazards course (GY 317) — Student
      2019 – 2019
    • History and Language/Literature

      French- Persuasive and Analytical Writing (FR 323) — Student
      2019 – 2019
    • Economics

      International Trade (EC 430) course — Student
      2019 – 2019
    • Environmental/Natural Resources Management and Policy

      Honors College-University of Alabama Law (Environmental Law I course) — Student
      2018 – 2018

    Arts

    • School Band

      Music
      2008 – 2011

    Public services

    • Volunteering

      2020 General Election at Hoover Fire Department Station 8 — poll worker
      2020 – 2020
    • Volunteering

      Birmingham Neighborhood Officers Election — poll worker
      2021 – 2021
    • Public Service (Politics)

      City of Birmingham- Office of the City Attorney — Legal Secretary
      2022 – 2022
    • Volunteering

      Beyond Bama Service Trip-Hurricane Harvey Relief — Student Volunteer
      2017 – 2017
    • Public Service (Politics)

      City of Birmingham- Office of the City Attorney — Americorps VISTA
      2021 – 2022
    • Advocacy

      Student Government Association — SGA Senator-College of Arts & Sciences
      2017 – 2019

    Future Interests

    Advocacy

    Politics

    Volunteering

    Philanthropy

    A Man Helping Women Helping Women Scholarship
    While working for the City of Birmingham, employees and I were encouraged to abide by the motto, “Putting People First.” In my career, I want to embody this motto. My interest in social issues and my personal experiences (i.e. witnessing inequity in Greene County, AL and enduring prejudice) have fueled my desire to serve others. In college, I served as SGA Senator for the University of Alabama (UA) in which I drafted legislation dealing with campus security, food security, project funding, eco-friendly practices, etc. I'm particularly proud of authoring R-26-18, Resolution to place Vive la Fete on Notice. In El Salvador, Vive La Fete (a company that licensed UA’s logo) paid their workers one-third of the minimum wage, and these workers’ children helped them to complete orders. When workers organized to demand a fair wage, they faced intimidation, and some of the workers’ children faced ableism from management. Fortunately, the Senate voted in favor of my resolution for these employees to receive $1.2 million in back pay and health benefits. As of December 2018, VP of Student Life announced that UA would not approve any new designs or requests from Vive La Fete until the issue was resolved. In college, I also volunteered alongside AmeriCorps NCCC and the American Red Cross in Houston, TX to aid in Hurricane Harvey relief. From October 25th-28th, 2017, other volunteers and I sanitized, cleaned, and packaged more than 40,000 fold-up cots shortly after Hurricane Harvey. These cots were later shipped to Puerto Rico for victims recovering from Hurricane Maria. This relief trip ignited within me a deeper desire to serve others and introduced me to emergency preparedness and disaster relief , which is particularly relevant to my interests in climate resilience. Another meaningful experience I had was volunteering as a poll worker on November 3, 2020 from 6:00 am to 8:30 pm. At first, I was hesitant to be a poll worker because of the pandemic; however, I eventually decided to do this. Like many young people, I felt compelled to volunteer since older people were opting out of poll work. To prepare for election day, I watched the videos that the probate judge provided and reviewed election law to ensure that I could help voters. This was a rewarding and dutiful day for me, and it reinforced for me the importance of protecting every citizen’s right to vote. In 2021 and 2022, I worked at the Office of the City Attorney and the Birmingham Land Bank Authority in the City of Birmingham. As an OCA and BLBA employee, I directly engaged with Birmingham residents, visited Civil Rights landmarks (i.e. 16th Street Baptist Church), learned about issues that Birmingham faces, and witnessed civil servants’ dedication to ameliorating Birminghamians’ daily lives. At the BLBA, I learned about Birmingham’s struggles with tax delinquency and blight throughout its 99 neighborhoods. As an AmeriCorps VISTA, I helped build capacity and aided the BLBA staff who work to reduce blight through expedited quiet title action and selling abandoned properties. Currently, I am interested in climate change and its implications for the southeastern U.S (an area of the U.S. that will be disproportionately affected). As I pursue my Master’s in Public Policy this fall, I will be dedicated to learning more about environmental policy and engaging in research and advocacy work to address our nation’s most pressing issues. As I pursue an MPP degree, I hope to work in a field where I can, in some way, improve and change the trajectory of other people's lives; in a similar way in which my life was changed.
    Mental Health Empowerment Scholarship
    At age 24, I had my first panic attack. I was so terrified at the time, and I believed that I had a severe cardiovascular illness. After this health scare I went to the doctor where I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). My childhood struggles with speech delay and ADHD precipitated my social anxiety. For a few years, I was withdrawn from three elementary schools due to insufficient catering or insensitivity to my learning needs. Fortunately, with a lot of support from family and teachers, I overcame these learning struggles. However, these experiences would have long-term, negative impacts on my personal life. Due to my aforementioned history, I have had a lifelong fear of being perceived as stupid or incompetent. As a result, I developed social anxiety. Due to this fear of failure, much of the time I invested in studying came at the expense of my social life. In post-college life, I socially withdrew from co-workers and was fearful of my supervisors’ perception of me. In addition, anytime I attended a social event, I felt so self-conscious and engaged in what felt like concerted extroversion. I subscribed to this behavior because society often encourages people to, “fake it ‘til you make it.” At some point, this act became emotionally draining, and most of my social interactions felt inauthentic. Fortunately, I have learned to better cope with my social anxiety. In the workplace, this translates to not feeling pressured to know everything and to not being afraid to ask questions. By no longer aspiring to be a “perfect professional,” I felt less stressed at work. Moreover, as my social anxiety lessened, I reconnected with old friends and started genuinely connecting with co-workers. What especially helped me lessen my social anxiety was reconnecting with public service. At the Birmingham Land Bank Authority and at the Office of the City Attorney, I directly engaged with Birmingham residents, learned about issues that Birmingham faces, and visited Civil Rights landmarks (i.e. 16th Street Baptist Church). While working for the COB, I and other employees were encouraged to adhere to the motto, Putting People First. By centering other people’s concerns, much of my anxiety was assuaged. In the grand scheme of things, my public service work reminded me that real-world, policy issues are more consequential than my personal insecurities. As I prepare for graduate school in fall 2024, I am excited for the amazing career opportunities that await me. For as long as I can remember, public policy has defined my life. Whether it was personally benefiting from §504/IEP plans, experiencing prejudice, or studying how public policy often neglects citizens. My hope is that I can one day work in a career field where I can improve and change the trajectory of other people's lives; in a similar way in which my life was changed. Pursuing an MPP will help me to fulfill these aspirations. Furthermore, I am even more appreciative of the life experiences these past few years have afforded me. For so long, I used intellect as an emotional crutch and prioritized academic solitude over social interactions. With a new lease on life, I can now say wholeheartedly that my desire for public policy derives from genuine passion and a newfound desire to meet and collaborate with people. In my MPP program, I will take every opportunity to not only excel academically but to also forge new connections with faculty, policy professionals, and fellow students.
    Scholarship Institute’s Annual Women’s Leadership Scholarship
    In college I had the honor of being elected to serve as SGA Senator at The University of Alabama (UA). As an SGA senator, I was attentive to students’ grievances and drafted legislation that addressed various campus issues (i.e. campus security, food security, project funding, eco-friendly practices, etc.) I also frequently collaborated with the Capstone Coalition. This group was started by fellow SGA members who wanted to promote diversity, transparency, and independent SGA members. I joined this coalition because I wanted to help make sure that SGA better reflected the student body. Within the SGA Senate, I also held several leadership positions. As Vice Chairman of the SGA Senate Security Council, I co-authored ACT-08-17 to provide additional funding for marketing the UA Safety App (an app that provides immediate access to information in case of an emergency); and I worked jointly with the university faculty and staff in the UA Campus Security & Safety Committee and attended their meetings to stay updated on campus security issues. I also toured the Adapted Athletics facility (which sponsors competitive wheelchair sports) and subsequently sponsored ACT A-17-18 to establish a scholarship fund for AA; and I sponsored R-16-18 to expand the campus food pantry for food insecure students. In addition, I briefly served as Chair of the SGA Senate Finance Committee. This Committee frequently meets with campus organizations and determines how much funding these organizations can receive. One piece of SGA legislation that I am particularly proud of authoring is R-26-18, Resolution to place Vive la Fete on Notice. This resolution was a result of the President of Students for Fair Labor (SFL) inviting me to an SFL meeting. In El Salvador, Vive La Fete (a company that licensed the UA’s logo) paid their workers (primarily women) one-third of the minimum wage, and these workers’ children often helped them to complete orders on time. When workers organized to demand a fair wage, they faced intimidation and harassment by management. Also, some of the workers’ children were discriminated against due to their disabilities. After hearing about these atrocities, I knew I had to introduce legislation to the SGA Senate floor. On behalf of the SFL, I requested that the employees receive $1.2 million in back pay and health benefits. Fortunately, the Senate voted in favor of this resolution. As of December 2018, VP of Student Life announced that UA would not approve any new designs or requests from Vive La Fete until the issue was resolved. Drafting R-26-18 reinforced for me the importance of advocating for others, even in the face of uncomfortable conflict. Furthermore, the Vive La Fete resolution was the first time I had self-started a significant policy. As a longtime follower, I was accustomed to actively listening to other people and following through on their ideas but not really spearheading ideas of my own. This resolution opened my eyes to the proactive, independent work that I was capable of doing, and it further allowed me to grow as a leader. From collaborating with stakeholders in SGA and witnessing attorneys’ and public officials’ team projects in the City of Birmingham, I have gleaned that collaboration is one of the most important aspects of leadership. This is especially pertinent to public policy where decision making and policy proposals require a lot of collaboration. As I pursue my Master’s in Public Policy, I will take every opportunity to grow as a leader by forging new connections and collaborating with faculty, policy professionals, and fellow students.
    Social Anxiety Step Forward Scholarship
    At age 24, I had my first panic attack. I was so terrified at the time, and I believed that I had a severe cardiovascular illness. After this health scare, I went to the doctor where I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). My childhood struggles with speech delay and ADHD (which I was diagnosed with at age six) precipitated my social anxiety. For a few years, I was withdrawn from three elementary schools due to insufficient catering or insensitivity to my learning needs. Fortunately, with a lot of support from family and teachers, I overcame these learning struggles. However, these experiences would have long-term, negative impacts on my personal life. Due to my aforementioned history, I have had a lifelong fear of being perceived as stupid or incompetent. Due to this fear of failure, much of the time I invested in studying came at the expense of my social life. In post-college life, I socially withdrew from co-workers and was fearful of my supervisors’ perception of me. In addition, anytime I attended a social event, I felt so self-conscious and engaged in what felt like concerted extroversion. I subscribed to this behavior because society often encourages people to, “fake it ‘til you make it.” At some point, this act became emotionally draining, and most of my social interactions felt inauthentic. Fortunately, I have learned to better cope with my social anxiety. In the workplace, this translates to not feeling pressured to know everything and to not being afraid to ask questions. By no longer aspiring to be a “perfect professional,” I felt less stressed at work. Moreover, as my social anxiety lessened, I reconnected with old friends and started genuinely connecting with co-workers. I also incorporated new habits in my life such as taking more walks, meditating, and being kinder to myself. What especially helped me lessen my social anxiety was reconnecting with public service. At the Birmingham Land Bank Authority and at the Office of the City Attorney, I directly engaged with Birmingham residents, learned about issues that Birmingham faces, and visited Civil Rights landmarks (i.e. 16th Street Baptist Church). While working for the COB, I and other employees were encouraged to adhere to the motto, "Putting People First." By centering other people’s concerns, much of my anxiety was assuaged. In the grand scheme of things, my public service work reminded me that real-world, policy issues are more consequential than my personal insecurities. As I prepare for graduate school in fall 2024, I am excited for the amazing career opportunities that await me. For as long as I can remember, public policy has defined my life. Whether it was personally benefiting from §504/IEP plans, experiencing prejudice, or studying how public policy often neglects citizens. My hope is that I can one day work in a career field where I can improve and change the trajectory of other people's lives; in a similar way in which my life was changed. Pursuing an MPP will help me to fulfill these aspirations. Furthermore, I am even more appreciative of the life experiences these past few years have afforded me. For so long, I used intellect as an emotional crutch and prioritized academic solitude over social interactions. With a new lease on life, I can now say wholeheartedly that my desire for public policy derives from genuine passion and a newfound desire to meet and collaborate with people. In my MPP program, I will take every opportunity to not only excel academically but to also forge new connections with faculty, policy professionals, and fellow students.
    Priscilla Shireen Luke Scholarship
    While working for the City of Birmingham, employees and I were encouraged to abide by the motto, “Putting People First.” In my career, I want to embody this motto. My interest in social issues and my personal experiences (i.e. witnessing inequity in Greene County, AL and enduring prejudice) have fueled my desire to serve others. In college, I served as SGA Senator for the University of Alabama (UA) in which I drafted legislation dealing with campus security, food security, project funding, eco-friendly practices, etc. I'm particularly proud of authoring R-26-18, Resolution to place Vive la Fete on Notice. In El Salvador, Vive La Fete (a company that licensed UA’s logo) paid their workers one-third of the minimum wage, and these workers’ children helped them to complete orders. When workers organized to demand a fair wage, they faced intimidation, and some of the workers’ children faced ableism from management. Fortunately, the Senate voted in favor of my resolution for these employees to receive $1.2 million in back pay and health benefits. As of December 2018, VP of Student Life announced that UA would not approve any new designs or requests from Vive La Fete until the issue was resolved. In college, I also volunteered alongside AmeriCorps NCCC and the American Red Cross in Houston, TX to aid in Hurricane Harvey relief. From October 25th-28th, 2017, other volunteers and I sanitized, cleaned, and packaged more than 40,000 fold-up cots shortly after Hurricane Harvey. These cots were later shipped to Puerto Rico for victims recovering from Hurricane Maria. This relief trip ignited within me a deeper desire to serve others and introduced me to emergency preparedness and disaster relief , which is particularly relevant to my interests in climate resilience. Another meaningful experience I had was volunteering as a poll worker on November 3, 2020 from 6:00 am to 8:30 pm. At first, I was hesitant to be a poll worker because of the pandemic; however, I eventually decided to do this. Like many young people, I felt compelled to volunteer since older people were opting out of poll work. To prepare for election day, I watched the videos that the probate judge provided and reviewed election law to ensure that I could help voters. This was a rewarding and dutiful day for me, and it reinforced for me the importance of protecting every citizen’s right to vote. In 2021 and 2022, I worked at the Office of the City Attorney and the Birmingham Land Bank Authority in the City of Birmingham. As an OCA and BLBA employee, I directly engaged with Birmingham residents, visited Civil Rights landmarks (i.e. 16th Street Baptist Church), learned about issues that Birmingham faces, and witnessed civil servants’ dedication to ameliorating Birminghamians’ daily lives. At the BLBA, I learned about Birmingham’s struggles with tax delinquency and blight throughout its 99 neighborhoods. As an AmeriCorps VISTA, I helped build capacity and aided the BLBA staff who work to reduce blight through expedited quiet title action and selling abandoned properties. Currently, I am interested in climate change and its implications for the southeastern U.S (an area of the U.S. that will be disproportionately affected). As I pursue my Master’s in Public Policy this fall, I will be dedicated to learning more about environmental policy and engaging in research and advocacy work to address our nation’s most pressing issues. As I pursue an MPP degree, I hope to work in a field where I can, in some way, improve and change the trajectory of other people's lives; in a similar way in which my life was changed.
    Book Lovers Scholarship
    Winner
    During a summer semester at college, I read one of the most impactful pieces of fiction: “A Brief History of Seven Killings” by Jamaican author, Marlon James. This ironically titled novel (nearly 700 pages long) is an ambitious, historical epic that chronicles events leading up to a general election & Bob Marley’s attempted assassination in December 1976 and the subsequent fallout leading up to 1991. This novel covers various issues (during a relatively overlooked time in history) including public disapproval of Bob Marley & the Rastafari religion, gang violence, poverty in the City of Kingston, colorism, political turmoil, misogyny, class dynamics, & Cold War-era foreign policy. Most notably, this novel is often written in Jamaican Patois & in stream of consciousness. I was initially averse to reading stream of consciousness, after I was assigned to read William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” in high school. Nonetheless, ‘A Brief History’ opened my eyes to the immense power of said writing style. By not following orthodox prose, I was transported to the unfiltered thought processes of the novel’s 75 characters including posse/gang members & leaders, a deceased politician, a music journalist, a Jamaican woman, and a government agent. By utilizing stream of consciousness, Marlon James personalizes complex, geopolitical issues. As an avid follower of history & public policy, this novel was immensely refreshing to read. Although non-fiction is important, the rawness of individuals’ experiences and the emotional resonance is sometimes lost in erudite & plodding language. As a prospective MPP student, this book has been truly informative to my understanding of society due to the novel’s use of non-linear storytelling & multiple POVs. Oftentimes, people believe that history follows a simple, linear story. However, we do a disservice to ourselves by oversimplifying history. Of course, there are basic, general truths. However, it is equally important to understand the nuanced & diverse experiences of various people affected by policy & history. The general populace would also benefit from reading ‘A Brief History.’ Unfortunately, Jamaica is often perceived as a mere vacation destination and is frequently parodied. However, like everywhere else, Jamaica is a real place with real people. This sentiment can also be extended to other countries that are mistreated or misunderstood. One of the best aspects of reading is its ability to expand worldviews and to challenge preconceived notions of people & ideas. “A Brief History of Seven Killings” certainly achieves this.
    John Young 'Pursue Your Passion' Scholarship
    Once I enrolled at The University of Alabama, I became more cognizant of the root of my family’s socioeconomic problems. One of the most formative experiences I had in college was taking a class called Alabama Characteristics. This class critiques the 1901 AL State Constitution and the lid tax bills of 1971 and 1978. The document has long been derided as one of the worst state constitutions in the country and has been criticized for its lack of revenue for education, voter disenfranchisement, and local government’s lack of autonomy. This antiquated document has had wide-ranging effects on my family, and it continues to propagate racial and economic inequities. My life would be fundamentally different had my parents not had the determination to leave Greene County to attend college. Moreover, I am reminded of people who have advocated on my behalf when I had learning difficulties as a child. I would not be where I am today were it not for advocates in my life and federal laws such as Section §504 of the Rehabilitation Act. In college, I had the honor of serving as SGA Senator and authoring legislation, including R-26-18. In El Salvador, Vive La Fete (a UA logo licensee) paid their workers one-third of the minimum wage. When workers organized to demand a fair wage, they faced intimidation and harassment by management. Also, some of the workers’ children (who often helped them to complete orders) faced ableism from management. On the Senate floor, I requested that the employees receive $1.2 million in back pay and health benefits. Fortunately, the Senate voted in favor of this resolution. As of December 2018, VP of Student Life announced that UA would not approve any new designs or requests from Vive La Fete until the issue was resolved. R-26-18 opened my eyes to the proactive, policy work I was capable of doing, and it was the first time I had dealt first-hand with an international policy issue. After graduation, I worked for the City of Birmingham (COB). At the COB, I witnessed first-hand civil servants’ generosity & dedication to ameliorating Birminghamians’ daily lives. I reconnected with public service by directly engaging with Birmingham residents and learning about issues that Birmingham faces. For instance, at the BLBA, I assisted staff who work to reduce blight (throughout Birmingham’s 99 neighborhoods) through expedited quiet title action and selling abandoned properties to Birmingham residents. For as long as I can remember, public policy has defined my life. Whether it was seeing inequities in Greene County, experiencing prejudice, or studying how public policy often neglects citizens. My hope is that if I’m in a position to make consequential policy decisions, one day, I will not make those errors. One day, I want to work in area of policy (i.e. economic, international, etc.) where I can, in some way, improve and change the trajectory of other people's lives; in a similar way in which my life was changed. Pursuing an MPP will help me to achieve this goal.
    Ethel Hayes Destigmatization of Mental Health Scholarship
    Due to my hearing loss from otitis media, I experienced speech delay during pivotal months of development. One hospital even diagnosed me with “borderline retardation.” My dad ripped up this report and continued his quest with my mom to find answers. In another instance, a male doctor from Florida spoke cavalierly that I was a spoiled brat who just needed a “whooping.” At age four, my parents finally found a dedicated, speech-language pathologist, Dr. Althea Pennerman. Until age 11, as part of my IEP/504 plan, I attended speech-language sessions. For a few years, I was withdrawn from three elementary schools due to insufficient catering or insensitivity to my learning needs. In one of these schools, an elderly teacher, named Mrs. Peterson, severely lectured me and put me in timeout for most of class. My mother was horrified when she witnessed Peterson harshly grabbing my arm as she was picking me up from school. Eventually, at age six, I was diagnosed with ADHD. After nearly failing the first grade, my Aunt Renée recommended to my parents that I see a tutor, named Ms. Grey, at Country Campus, a summer school in Marietta, GA. After Ms. Grey tutored me, I started reading voraciously. The following autumn, I earned a spot on the honor roll for the first time. Although I am grateful for overcoming these tribulations, these experiences would have long-term impacts on my mental health including social anxiety, poor work-life balance, hypervigilance, and overreliance on academic success for self-worth. Despite my collegiate success, I began to grapple with anxiety & loneliness. Although I was involved in various campus activities, the time I invested in studying came at the expense of my social life. I began to realize that the ostensible, self-actualization that I derived from scholastic endeavors left me melancholy. After college, my anxiety manifested into scary, physical symptoms ranging from heart palpitations, insomnia, trembling, high blood pressure, and panic attacks. Eventually, I was officially diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). In retrospect, my GAD was a result of my childhood struggles. Largely due to ADHD, I struggled with time management and executive dysfunction. After years of forgetting to do homework as a child, I became hypervigilant about completing my coursework. Consequently, I psychologically associated coursework and other tasks with fear and was subsequently in constant fight-or-flight mode. Fortunately. I have since improved my health and learned to prevent/ alleviate my GAD symptoms. In addition to prayer, meditation, low-intensity exercise, and deep breaths, one phrase helped shift my mindset- “one thing at a time.” Oftentimes, what precipitated my anxiety symptoms was feeling overwhelmed about all of the tasks I needed to complete. Whenever I felt these fears arise, I began to repeat the mantra, “one thing at a time.” I have also learned to give myself grace. Like many people, I am my own worst critic. In recent years, as a young adult, I now have the perspective and understanding of how my childhood experiences contributed to issues in adulthood. This shift in my mindset also transferred to my professional life. Due to my aforementioned history, I have had a lifelong fear of being perceived as stupid or incompetent. My Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria from my ADHD surely did not help either. Consequently, I socially withdrew from co-workers and was fearful of supervisors’ evaluation of my job performance. I also previously subscribed to the idea of faking it ‘til you make it.’ Frankly, I find this aphorism to be a bit short-sighted. At some point, my fake confidence had to become genuine. For me, this translated into not feeling obligated to know everything, not being afraid to ask questions, and not faking extroversion. By no longer aspiring to be a “perfect professional,” I felt less stressed at work. Moreover, as my social anxiety lessened, I have reconnected with old friends, such as my best friend from middle school. I also started spending time with co-workers outside of work and having more meaningful conversations. What also helped me was reconnecting with public service. As an AmeriCorps VISTA, I helped build capacity at the Birmingham Land Bank Authority which works to reduce blight (throughout Birmingham’s 99 neighborhoods) through expedited quiet title action and selling abandoned properties. As a legal secretary for the Office of the City Attorney, I directly engaged with Birmingham residents, learned about issues that Birmingham faces, and visited Civil Rights landmarks (i.e. 16th Street Baptist Church). By centering other people’s concerns (instead of my own insecurities), some of my anxieties were assuaged. My public service work and my family history have reminded me that the larger public policy issues I will address, after receiving my Master’s in Public Policy, are more consequential than my insecurities. Lastly, one of the most important takeaways from my journey has been no longer thinking of life as a linear timeline where I have preset milestones I must meet. After graduating from college, I constantly compared myself to my peers who pursued graduate school or who received prestigious job offers. I felt like a failure since I delayed pursuing a JD, and 2020-2021 were tumultuous years overall. Eventually, I stopped checking my social media. Most importantly, I began to accept that life would deviate from what I expected or planned. Since age 11, I thought I would become an attorney. Now, I'm pursuing an MPP instead of a JD. After college, I did not expect to still live in Alabama, but I gained great work experience by working for the City of Birmingham. In sum, I stopped setting super specific goals and feeling crushed if said goals were not met. Some of the most amazing moments in my life have been, to some degree, unplanned or complete surprises. I used to be hell bent on planning for the future, and I believed that uncertainty was my enemy. Now, I embrace it because I have found that my initial plans paled in comparison to what life has in store for me.