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(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)

On Saturday I reached a new personal low. Lying on the concrete outside Natalie’s Peruvian Restaurant, I vomited everything in me onto the ground as other members of my DukeEngage group looked on. I felt embarrassed, ashamed, and most of all, inadequate. Why couldn’t I handle the hike to the top of the Hollywood sign like the other students? Was I too un-athletic? Too out of shape? Too weak? These thoughts echoed in my mind as I lay there. I soon realized how similar these notions were to the sentiments I had been hearing all week. Monday through Friday, I listened to the girls say sentences like “I’m so dumb”, “I’m not good at school”, and “I can’t do this”. During one of the group challenges, one of the girls even said “I don’t know how to do this. My cousin goes to OCC (the college the camp is held at), can I just call him and have him help?”. Honestly, hearing some of these reactions was pretty disheartening. After all our work to build their confidence, the girls didn’t even seem to realize what they were capable of. During my STEM class this week, they all built bridges. Sure not everyone’s was the strongest, but they all built ones that could stand and hold weight. Most of all, they were all creative and really different. The girls had faced many limitations through their lives— some have had people tell them that they weren’t good enough, some have learning disorders, and some were told that they wouldn’t amount to anything. Regardless, they all came to camp and in the end tried their best. I recognized how my negative thoughts mirrored theirs; I faced my own challenges climbing that mountain. I have a heart condition, and my right ankle is recovering from a sprain. Nevertheless, I gave it my all and went as far as I could. I realized that day that not everything is a competition. Just because I didn’t hike the farthest doesn’t mean I’m weak. Just because a girl doesn’t win the STEM challenge doesn’t mean that her idea is bad or that she is dumb. I hope next week that I can stress to the girls that even if they aren’t the best at something, it doesn’t mean that they’re not good enough. We all have our own strengths and in the end that is what makes us all unique.