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Mercy Austin

5285

Bold Points

3x

Nominee

2x

Finalist

1x

Winner

Bio

I am an aspiring journalist passionate about social justice and human rights activism. Growing up as a missionary kid in Uganda, I learned what it means to be part of a vibrant international community, and I hope to use my writing as a way to bridge the gap I see between the western world and the international one. I take steps to engage in my community through volunteer work and activism. Last year, I raised almost $2,000 for HIV and AIDS research and awareness, and I'm constantly searching for new projects to make a difference. My dream is to eventually go back overseas to advocate for women and LGBT+ equality in the majority world. I'm hoping to attend Medill School of Journalism and cultivate my own voice as a writer and a speaker. I can't wait to see what this next year brings.

Education

The Classical Academy High School

High School
2020 - 2022
  • GPA:
    4

Rampart High School

High School
2018 - 2020
  • GPA:
    4

Miscellaneous

  • Desired degree level:

    Doctoral degree program (PhD, MD, JD, etc.)

  • Majors of interest:

    • Journalism
  • Not planning to go to medical school
  • Career

    • Dream career field:

      Investigative Journalism

    • Dream career goals:

      Human Rights Advocacy Overseas

    • National Honor Society

      The Classical Academy
      2021 – Present3 years
    • Crew Member

      Wendy's
      2021 – Present3 years
    • Babysitting/Tutoring

      Self-Employed
      2020 – Present4 years
    • Vice President

      Rampart Creative Writing Club
      2018 – 20202 years
    • Lincoln-Douglas Debate

      Middle School, High School
      2014 – Present10 years
    • Editor-in-Chief

      School Yearbook
      2020 – Present4 years

    Sports

    Track & Field

    Club
    2015 – 20161 year

    Basketball

    Junior Varsity
    2015 – 20172 years

    Arts

    • Acacia Middle School

      Theatre
      Oliver Twist, Twelfth Night, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
      2015 – 2018
    • Rampart High School

      Photography
      2019 – 2020

    Public services

    • Advocacy

      Rampart High School — Fundraiser
      2019 – 2020
    • Volunteering

      Library 21c — Review Crew
      2020 – Present
    • Volunteering

      My local church — Children's Volunteer
      2019 – 2021

    Future Interests

    Advocacy

    Politics

    Volunteering

    Philanthropy

    Robert F. Lawson Fund for Careers that Care
    As an aspiring journalist, there are dozens of places that I see injustice and abuse in the world, and I notice more examples the more I pay attention. But if I had to pick one thing that I am determined to expose and write about, it would be the marginalization of those with mental illness in public education systems, criminal justice, healthcare, and legislation. Surveys on public schools have concluded that over 50% of students demonstrate significant learning, emotional, and behavioral problems, and less than a third of them have gotten the support that they need [1]. This does not bode well for later in life— people with mental illness account for one in every four individuals incarcerated in jails and prisons, and they are sixteen times as likely to be shot and killed by the police [2]. Despite this, the treatments we have in place are often both ineffective and dangerous. I’ve had two close friends who have both visited separate psych wards at different times, and both have come away with descriptions of abuse and trauma they experienced there. They aren’t the only ones—studies show that over two thirds of those detained under the Mental Health Act were subjected to maltreatment while they were there [3]. The systems we have in place are failing, and though there are many reasons for this, I believe the biggest is poor funding allocation. Though the United States government has funneled over 15 billion dollars into various mental health initiatives, very little of this money has actually gone to programs proven to create a significant difference. States such as New York, California, and more have all been accused of misusing and fraudulently spending federal funds, and many states with lower state funding (such as Ohio) rank far higher on mental health treatment than those with higher funding (such as Pennsylvania) [4]. The problem isn’t just the amount of funds, but the way they are allocated. I want to propose a comprehensive funding plan for mental health— one that relies on psychological consensus to emphasize what works and what doesn’t when treating individuals with mental illness. Additionally, I want to use the skills I learn through journalism to launch full scale investigations into mental hospitals and programs across the country, exposing malpractice when necessary and reporting on the stories of people who feel like they have been marginalized and silenced by harmful systems. I want to dive into the root of the problem and confront the ways that the system we currently have is inadequate. If I’m honest, I’m a little bit afraid. I don’t know what’s out there, and I know the responsibility it takes to be able to tell someone’s story well. But I know injustice when I see it, and I hope that when the time comes, I’ll have enough courage to stand up and say, “this isn’t right.” I’ll pick up my pen and start writing. Sources: [1] http://www.williamdikel.com/providing-mental-health-services-in-public-schools-what-educators-need-to-know.html [2] https://www.clasp.org/sites/default/files/publications/2021/04/Youth%20Mobile%20Response% 20Services_0.pdf [3] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/mentally-ill-mental-health-act-detained-physical-violence-threats-treatment-a8329891.html [4] https://mentalillnesspolicy.org/national-studies/funds-for-mental-illness-is-your-state-generous-or-stingy-report-pdf.html
    Sloane Stephens Doc & Glo Scholarship
    Winner
    The characteristic I value most about myself is my inability to be intimidated. It’s gotten me into a lot of trouble. Back in middle school, my principal (who terrified all of my classmates) challenged me to a one-on-one debate in front of the entire debate team and anyone who wanted to watch. She’d noticed my potential and wanted to see how I did under pressure. I accepted. On a dare from one of my friends, I chose the topic that the school’s uniform policy was too stringent and needed reform. I argued for the motion. She argued against. In one of the most intense encounters I’ve ever experienced, I laid out a passionate defense of my position, surrounded by nearly a hundred students who were all simultaneously rooting for me and terrified. She fought back, arguing in favor of the rules she’d set in place, and I attacked all of her arguments with as much vigor as I could muster. The next day, the uniform was still in place, but the policies around jewelry, socks, and headbands had been loosened. I was hailed a school hero. I’ve carried this same mindset with me as I moved halfway across the world and started at a public high school. I joined the debate team and continued to articulate my thoughts and emotions. I launched a project to advocate for HIV/AIDS, talking to hundreds of people and raising thousands of dollars. I organized bake sales for friends’ businesses, attended rallies to protest racial injustice, and learned to use writing and journalism as a way to speak up against injustice and corruption. As an aspiring journalist, I know I’m going to be put in a lot of intimidating situations. Watchdog reporting is a method of exposing deliberately concealed information, and often involves bringing down high profile figures. If I’m honest, that terrifies me. But I also remember the sixth grader who took on the principal to fight against what she considered unfairness. I remember the passion that she felt, the determination to bring change into a world that seemed content with everything being the way it was. And I know that little girl is still inside of me somewhere. Her heart beats for justice, and she’ll never stop until she achieves it. The world needs people who will stand up and say, “this isn’t right.” It needs the warriors, the storytellers, the people who are labeled ‘too much’. It needs people who unabashedly plunge themselves into the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable, and the intimidating. It’s not going to be easy, but no one ever said it should be. Let’s get started.
    Bold Generosity Matters Scholarship
    I was in seventh grade when I had my first health crisis. Due to a rare neurological disorder, my legs had begun to fail, slipping into paralysis. No doctor could tell me what was happening. I was growing desperate, on the verge of suicide and emotional and physical exhaustion. Together with my parents, I decided to travel halfway across the world in hopes of finding American doctors who could figure out what was wrong with me. I got on the plane sobbing, my head in splitting pain after complications from a recent lumbar puncture. I was humiliated and ashamed. But the flight attendants took control immediately, leading me to a seat in first-class where I could lie down despite having only paid for an economy ticket. They checked on me constantly, and several of them went out of their way to talk to me and ask me questions to distract me. At the end, one of them came to me specifically and gave me a special journal, signed by each of the flight attendants. It was a note, wishing me well as I traveled to the US and expressing their hopes that I could find a diagnosis and a cure. On the next page was a poem written by the pilot of the plane, who had handed over the controls just to write it for me. This is what generosity means to me. Generosity is ordinary. It’s found in the simple things, the times when it feels like nothing you do will make a difference. I felt invisible, but they made me feel seen. I felt hurt and alone, but they made me feel like part of a community. And I’ll never forget that for the rest of my life.
    Jameela Jamil x I Weigh Scholarship
    My entire life, I’ve watched someone very close to me (we’ll call him Sam) struggle through the endless barrage of medication and fear that comes with being HIV positive. There are so many questions he’s had to face that healthy people don’t have to. Questions about relationships and disclosure to potential partners. Questions about life expectancy and personal health. Questions about potential future children and how to make sure the virus doesn’t spread to them. There are rarely easy answers to these questions. I remember one specific time when he had a nosebleed and his blood got all over me. His viral load was undetectable at that point, which means there was almost no chance I could get infected. But I still froze and screamed at him to go away, and he wouldn’t look at me for weeks after that. We struggled to stay friends, and it forced me to reconsider my own biases when it came to his illness. I knew that Sam wasn’t the only one who had to deal with these questions and experiences, but most people had no idea what it was like to suffer through something like that. There’s a huge stigma towards HIV, as it’s often associated with sexual behavior (though Sam got it from his mother) and the gay community, making the stigma around HIV tied with homophobia. I wanted to get the word out about the disease and mobilize a community to become aware of and engaged in the problems that HIV+ people face. I launched a fundraising project, selling handmade needlepoints and African crafts to raise money for an HIV/AIDS initiative in Uganda. I gave out red ribbons symbolizing AIDS awareness and told people to spread the word. In the end, I raised almost $2,000 and talked with thousands of people through door-to-door sales and a table I set up at our local library. To me, allyship is about standing up for the people who are closest to us. It’s about fighting for the humanity of those who find their security and happiness is at risk. It’s about telling a different story than the one the world wants to tell— one of hope and healing rather than fear and stigma. It’s not easy, but it’s one of the most human things we can do. We learn, we grow, and we take steps to make the world just a little bit better for the people who come after us. It’s the least we can do.
    Bold Great Minds Scholarship
    The person I most admire from history is Diogenes of Sinope, the founder of Cynic philosophy. Contrary to how we understand the word ‘cynic’ today, ancient Greek cynicism did not refer to jadedness or negativity, but to the rejection of social hierarchies and consumeristic culture. Diogenes himself lived in a barrel, had a reputation for obscene public displays, and was known by other philosophers as ‘Socrates gone mad’. In a world just as defined by social norms as our modern society, Diogenes’ lifestyle was essentially a social commentary on the hypocrisy and decadence of Athens at the time. When he was just a boy, the young philosopher’s ship was abducted by pirates, and he was captured and sold as a slave to Crete. He eventually grew in status, becoming a tutor for two boys and eventually earning his freedom. He then returned to Athens, armed with radical ideas about minimalism and self-discipline. Whereas other philosophers focused on theoreticals and sophisms, Diogenes wanted to devote his life to living out what he taught, having no material possessions and living on alms from begging to strangers. At night, he would walk around the streets of Athens holding a lantern, claiming he was searching for an honest man. I admire Diogenes because he wasn’t afraid to live out a radical critique of the world around him. As an aspiring journalist, I want to be able to call out and dismantle harmful systems, and Diogenes was unafraid to voice his controversial ideas. He lived in a way that made people angry, but he never backed down in the face of resistance and the seeming impossibility of social change. Through him, we know that philosophy at its core is not just about ideas-- it's about action.
    Bold Deep Thinking Scholarship
    A religious denomination fractures in two because of competing beliefs within the church. A son is disowned by his parents after he comes out as gay. The government shuts down as a result of politicians that refuse to make decisions or compromise with the other side. What do all these situations have in common? They all represent divisive and fractured relationships created by a lack of empathy. I define empathy here as an active pursuit to see the world through different eyes than your own. It requires a radical reevaluation of personal affiliations and a commitment to seeing other people as human beings rather than personified ideologies. I hypothesize that if humans were to practice cultivating personal empathy, we would see a dramatic increase in acceptance towards marginalized minorities, reconciliation across polarized social and political groups, and a sharp decline in violence, abuse, and slavery worldwide. Likewise, I believe that the greatest reason for the prevalence of these issues today is apathy. Human beings continue to suffer while people who have the power and the resources to act fail to do so. Bombarded with news every day, it becomes easier for humans to embrace complacency, assuming that people are always going to suffer and there’s nothing we can do about it. Because of that, the best way to develop empathy is to be uncomfortable. When we allow ourselves to be satisfied with the way things are, we never inspire social change. To address this problem, humans need to learn to thrust themselves into difficult conversations. We need to listen to people we’d rather not listen to and give a voice to stories we’d rather not be told. It's easy to hide behind what's safe and familiar, but as long as we do, suffering is never going to end.
    "Wise Words" Scholarship
    “Beauty and truth are inexplicably intertwined. Truth without beauty is a weapon. Beauty without truth is spineless.” -Andrew Peterson Growing up, the fervency of my opinions was surpassed only by the sharpness of my tongue. I earned a reputation as being a girl with something to say, whether it was the misogynistic dress code policies or the cafeteria food that no one really liked but no one wanted to talk about. It caught the attention of my school debate coach, who was quick to recruit me onto the team. I found belonging on those stages, a place where fiery speech was encouraged rather than looked down upon. I learned that passion was a tool to be weaponized, and the right combination of emotions and logic could manipulate others into agreeing with me. I was powerful, and I loved it. But that mentality got me in trouble more than it helped me. I pushed away friends with hurtful comments and witty insults. I isolated myself until I was surrounded only by people who feared or admired me but no one who actually cared about me. And I found that the more I won arguments, the more confused and unhappy I became. When I first started high school, I’d just moved halfway across the world, and I joined the forensics team in desperate hope of a community. There, I met people across a dozen different events, each with intelligent speeches and stories. In one speech, a boy advocated for humane treatment of animals, showing pictures of his own pet to emphasize his point. Another girl told the story of her father’s suicide and the pain and trauma it caused her. She shared her passion for suicide prevention and explained how to recognize the warning signs. Still another student was deeply invested in prison reform, and she was inspired by the years her own brother had spent behind bars. I learned that truth is so much more than facts. You can tell the truth and still be dishonest. Because honesty is more than a negative force (not lying), but a positive and active search for authenticity and clarity. Real truth is kind. It doesn’t hesitate to call out harmful ideas and institutions, but it does so out of bravery rather than pride and the desire to be right. This quote by one of my favorite authors and singers sums up the complicated relationship between truth and beauty. Though sometimes at odds with each other, like a constant tug-of-war, they can’t exist in their purest form without the other. Truth without kindness isn’t really truth at all— it’s cruelty. It inspires fear instead of change. But err too much on the side of graciousness, and you never find the power to initiate change. As an aspiring journalist, I know that this is a balance I'll be struggling to find for the rest of my life. But I’m here, and I’m ready to try.
    Bold Great Books Scholarship
    When I was ten years old, my father brought home a leatherbound copy of The Hobbit with shiny pages and runes etched in gold along the cover. We poured over it every night for weeks, and I was spellbound by the funny voices he would make and the way his voice would rise and fall with the action of the moment. I sat on the edge of my seat as Bilbo struggled to find riddles to appease the evil Gollum. I gasped in amazement as he and his dwarf army crammed into wine barrels and raced down the river towards freedom. And ultimately, I cheered as they marched home, arms full of the riches they’d won from their journey and hearts full from the people they’d met along the way. After that, I couldn’t get enough. I plunged myself into the Lord of the Rings, immersing myself in Elvish lore and the rich world that came to life under Tolkien’s masterful touch. I marched along with Frodo, laughed along with Sam, and cried as the series came to it’s final, heartbreaking conclusion. I was hooked. Reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy excited in me a lust for adventure while also reminding me of the goodness of home. It taught me that friendship is more than passive sentiment, but an active choice to live in selflessness and compassion. It gave me the tools I needed to reckon with the grief and pain I’d been struggling with for years. And above all, the Lord of the Rings taught me why stories are important. Because as Sam once said, folks in stories had a lot of chances of turning back, only they didn't. Because they knew that there is something good in this world-- and it’s worth fighting for.