Below is Jaxxen Tunney’s scholarship submission essay, which we selected as a winner of the Helping Victims Scholarship.
I have become an advocate for all underprivileged people, but if you knew me you would have never thought it was possible.
Allow me a moment to put my thoughts into context:
I have autism. As a child I could only exist in a social setting doing what is called “parallel play,” where all of the kids would be in a group doing one thing and I would be alongside somewhere simply lost in my thoughts. In fact, my disability is and was significant enough where I wasn’t even allowed to be with typically developing kids, at first. My dad worked out a deal where he would teach one day a week in my classroom so I wouldn’t have to go to Special Education. On a day my dad wasn’t there, I had a meltdown. The principal dragged me across the school to her office by my leg while I screamed. My mom and dad reached out to our state senators, school district officials and local lawyers who helped my parents, for free, for me. The principal was fired, I was placed in a different school and my dad continued to teach one day a week for two more years. All of this upheaval would typically be problematic for a kid with autism.
However, this has given me a significant leadership advantage, especially recently. Let me explain:
In 4th grade I discovered non-fiction books and learned in detail every major science, every major type of governance, every group of people from every nation throughout all of time. I learned what always fails in societies and what stands the test of time.
By 7th grade, everyone wanted to be in my study group because I was the smartest kid in every class and they knew they could get an easy A by being on my team.
What I have learned about leadership is that its primary end is to achieve the goal of the leader, whether that entails the efforts of the leader themselves to achieve the goal or whether that entails the leader guiding others to achieve the goal on the leader’s behalf. Hopefully on the team’s behalf as well if the leader is a good leader. However, all leaders are not nice people and that alone does not make them bad leaders. Bad leadership is simply not achieving the goal.
I am co-President of The National Honor Society, Kealakehe chapter and an officer in the Interact Club. I have raised money through my own actions and through the efforts of my groups and breakout groups for all four years of high school. This past year, however, there was no school, at least in person, and therefore no ability for us to gather as groups to raise money for our causes. This is the part where my ability to perform as an individual pays off.
I was at Kealakehe High School to turn in work to a counselor so I could submit my applications to college. I was accepted to UC Berkeley’s Astrophysics Department. Not bad for a kid who wasn’t allowed into regular school at first. While at Kealakehe, I saw dozens, maybe hundreds of kids in the cafeteria. School wasn’t in session so I asked why they were there. My counselor said they were getting free lunches because their families were in need. They get free breakfast as well. I asked what they do for dinner and my counselor said they use our food bank called the Kokua Closet but the Kokua Closet had been empty for some time because no one was at school to administer it and reach out for donations.
I had my mom drive me to everyone she knew and secured entire truckloads of food from as many people as I could in our community. When we were unloading one load of food I was asked if we had any toiletries. I didn’t. I didn’t even think toiletries were a thing people needed, so we started all over. In the end I collected thousands of dollars of both food and toiletries. When we were unloading the toiletries I was asked if we had things that were particular to the needs of girls. I didn’t. I hadn’t even thought of it. So I went to my dad’s work. Everyone had been furloughed for months but they were just coming back so I asked them all for as much money as they could spare. We used that money to go to Target and buy all the women’s products we could.
I have done fundraisers like this at least ten times throughout high school. I have done clothes drives as well including my biggest clothes drive ever a couple of months ago as kids were getting ready to return to school. I like working in groups. I like leading groups. More important though, I like making sure that people get the help they deserve and I learn a lot about the world in doing what I do.
There was a man named Carl Sagan who had a show on PBS in 1980 called “Cosmos.” Carl Sagan told stories about cutting-edge science and societies in many ways lost to history in a way that even a 4th grader could understand. Carl Sagan encouraged and empowered countless people to pursue science and to pursue a more elevated view of their place in the grand scheme of things. I hope to carry on where Carl Sagan left off and help lead a new generation to a brighter future.
Just stay relentless. Whatever your affliction, I promise that you will leave your mark.
Thank you for learning a little bit about me.
*A side note about me: Kids with autism have a very difficult time speaking in public. I was honored two years ago to be a part of a constitutional legal debate before real courtroom judges from the Oahu First Circuit Court. This was a state championship event for kids with an advanced understanding of both the US Constitution as well as the history of the 13 Colonies. I may be challenged when it comes to public speaking, but I won in my category.
*A second side note about me: Our house burned down 3 years ago and we lost everything. My family made it back financially and then Covid hit and essentially the entire state of Hawaii was furloughed. Challenges are opportunities so I don’t look at these things as complications I have had to overcome. I mention them only to let you know why your scholarship is so important to me.