{Stand Strong In The Face Of Fear}

The first time I saw him I was just fifteen. It was August of 2013 and high school football was just starting up for my sophomore year when my good friend Ian introduced me to him. “Hey Julia, I wanted you to meet my friend Duncan!” Ian said as the most handsome man stood before me with bright blue eyes, blonde hair, and a grin that stretched from ear to ear. When we both looked at each other, we gave one another ‘the look.’ You know the look I mean, when you first see someone so breathtakingly perfect? That look. Both being awkward teenagers, after this moment happened we nervously said hello to each other and later stalked each other on Twitter. On the first day of sophomore year, Duncan sat directly in front of me in my English class where we had another awkward hello. That night, Duncan messaged me on Twitter and that is when the giddy middle-school-crush-texting started. Duncan and I fell hard for each other and everyone knew it.

On Friday October 4th 2013, there was a home football game at my high school and I was on the sidelines dancing for my school. Before the game began, the dance team performs the school’s fight song and some other chants to get the students rallied up. Immediately after I was done performing, I was turned around facing the field when my teammates began yelling my name and tapping me on the shoulder. When I turned around to se what the hassle was about, in front of my eyes was Duncan on the other side of the fence smiling up at me holding a sign that read “Will YOU Be Mine?” in one hand, with a bouquet of flowers in the other. I instantly jumped towards him and said “YES!” From that day on, I was his and he was mine.

The next couple of years that we spent together were the happiest times of my life, and the highlight of my high school experience. Duncan and I shared so many memories from sophomore and junior homecoming, to trips to Cedar Point, meeting each other’s families, going to church together, getting Chinese food at least once a week, having a photographer take pictures of us, going to each other’s football games and dance competitions, celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, going to parties, volunteering at Muscular Dystrophy Camp, to simply watching movies and laughing together all the time. Duncan and I were inseparable. We were so in love. And then tragedy struck.

Thursday August 6th 2015 was the worst day of my life. I guess I should elaborate on that a bit. Duncan and his two best friends, Anthony and Dom, took a trip up north for a few days. I was getting ready to host my student government’s annual retreat about an hour from my house.I think it is critical to take the time to say if you ever knew anything about Duncan, it was that he worked at a boat repair shop and loved recreationally riding dirt bikes, motorcycles, four-wheelers, trucks, cars, boats, jet skis, etc. While he was up north with his friends, they began taking some trails around the woods with some dirt bikes and four wheelers and had bonfires and slept in tents and just were being guys. The next morning, they began repeating their day before. They started their day by making breakfast over the fire, and then they pulled out the dirt bikes and four wheelers again. Something wasn’t 100% working with the four wheeler and I am not even sure what that was but I know that it was bad.

I was with my student government at our retreat who it happened. It began with a text from my mom saying “call me when you can.” Once given the opportunity, I gave my mom a call. My mom doesn’t typically disturb me when she knows I am doing something for my extra circulars but this phone call was different. It was strange. All my mom knew, she explained. “Duncan got hurt up north today. He hit a tree and I don’t know how badly he is hurt but I know that something is wrong.” I didn’t think much of this phone call as it seemed as though Duncan had broken a leg or an arm or something. The worst I thought would have happened was that he would be so upset because he wouldn’t be able to play football his senior year. I was so horribly incorrect. I was doing a group activity with my student government when I got two missed calls from Anthony. After the activity I called him back and walked up to the stage that was in the room at camp to get away from the people talking. The next activity required everyone to separate into the people who’s grade they were in. That being said, everyone from my student government had left the room. It was just us seniors now.

When I answered the phone, I knew something was very wrong because Anthony was crying and boys don’t cry over nothing. After asking what happened to Duncan many times, Anthony could only spit things out like “He’s not okay,” or “He’s not going to make it.” I couldn’t fully process what I was hearing so I sort of forced him to give it to me straight up since I just was not wanting to understand what was coming out of his mouth as I started crying in panic. “He’s gone.” Those two words came out of his mouth and my retched screams were to immediately follow. My two best friends came up on both sides of me and asked me what was wrong. “It’s Duncan.” I got out under my breath of the screams. “What about him?! What happened?!” they asked. In that moment, I couldn’t get anything out besides “He’s dead.” I know that this was not the way I would have told anyone else if they were to ask me, but I simply didn’t know how to explain it any other way at this time because I didn’t want to think it was real and I just didn’t know what was going on.

I don’t remember much of that day beyond that point but I remember I could not stop screaming and crying. My two best friends got me a ride home with them so that I could be with my family and cope the ways of my choosing (which was just curling up in a ball and screaming until I fell asleep).

That month was a blur. Filled with his was, his funeral, his burial services, and reality of it all, August was a month that I never wanted to relive. School was right around the corner and I honestly was nervous. I was nervous that I would breakdown within the seven hours of my day that I was there and that everyone would feel bad for me or just look at me and the last thing I wanted at that point in my life was even more attention and sympathy than I already had by showing up to school. It was hard. But I showed the world that I was strong enough by putting on a smile and acting like I was okay. I saved the breakdowns for when I got home. It worked out that way for a while. Then I began getting called down to each and every councilor and psychiatrist in the building simply for them to all tell me that I was depressed and had high anxiety.. obviously. At a certain point I emailed my school’s principal to specifically ask their employees to please leave me alone while I am just trying to get through a lesson in my classes and keep up with my academics rather than be pulled from my classes and get upset, then miss what I was supposed to learn that day. He agreed that it was a bit inappropriate that I was being taken out of multiple hours of school work and that since I am comfortable in class without having to talk to anyone, he was okay with discontinuing the unwanted counseling and let me talk to people on my own time.

Throughout the fall I attended every single football game each Friday in which I supported the team and recognized Duncan in any way that I could in order to lead our team to victory. I also began to keep more of my emotions in which physically caused me to break out into hives all over my neck, chest, back, stomach, and legs. I tried my best to keep it together around others but all of the build up lead to absolute psychologic rock bottom. Winter was approaching as I began to get a bit unsteady. I would come home from school each day and just do absolutely nothing but go on my phone and play games or watch Netflix to just completely block out any thoughts that I had been having and I shut out all of my emotions to the point where the only one I had was careless. I stopped caring about my “friends” because as soon as I stopped hanging out with them all the time they seemed to stop caring about me, regardless of them knowing what I was going through. I stopped caring about school and don’t recall even turning in a homework assignment for about 2 months. I stopped caring about dance and completely accepted the fact that I would be put in the back corner of a dance because I showed no effort whatsoever. I lost the love of my life, and everything else I loved with that.

Things started turning around for me when I started getting recognized from Central Michigan University, which was the only university that I truly wanted to attend. Every other college I applied for I obviously got denied from given my effort in school, however Central recognized me for my leadership skills in all of my other years of high school, disregarding senior year. With that, I was given the opportunity out of thousands of applicants to be a part of the Leadership Advancement Scholarship cohort, something I had dreamt of since my junior year of high school. This acceptance gave me something that I hadn’t felt in a while, and that was hope. From that point on I worked so hard to get my acceptance letter into CMU and along the way I met a special someone to push me to be better each day.

Dane Haggarty came into my life at a time when no one else was. It turns out that Dane needed someone to pick him up from rock bottom too. The two of us were there for each other to just talk about everything that we felt every single day. Dane helped me through the tough times, as well as the happy ones along the way. He showed me that it was okay to break down and feel sad, but that it was all okay to express my happiness and my passions for what I love. With his help, I changed my perspective on life itself. It isn’t about what everyone else wants you to feel or think or do, it is simply what you make of it and that is what will make you happy in the end.

With a mind set like this, I ended up getting accepted to Central Michigan University with a spot in the Leadership Institute as a member of the Leadership Advancement Scholarship. I auditioned for the college dance team, which I had dreamt of being a part of my whole life and am now speaking as a member of Central Michigan’s dance team, who is ranked number five in the nation. I was nominated for prom court and it turns out, I won prom queen. I was given the opportunity to sit on stage at graduation due to my elite involvement in my school’s student government program and was awarded at epilogue for my outstanding participation in student activities. I was given the opportunity to visit Paris, France in June where I locked up my love for Duncan on the ever so famous Love Lock Bridge and where I also turned eighteen in the Palace of Versailles all while the Euro Cup 2016 was taking place in Paris. While on this trip I was able to take a train to London, England, where I have always wanted to go since I was little. I went up north for the first time that summer, I visited my favorite place in the world where I shared countless memories with Duncan at, and I even got to spend the fourth of July with a group of my best friends, who were all good friends of Duncan himself. I was able to raise over one thousand dollars to donate to the Muscular Dystrophy Association in honor of him by selling t-shirts for him with a group of his friends. I received a “Best hip-hop tricks” award from Grand Valley State University’s Laker dance team clinic. I completed the list Duncan and I made of dates and adventures we wanted to go on with my friends or family, including traveling to places like Disney World. I even added the solo dance performances I did in honor of him at my school’s talent show my senior year where I received the “People’s choice award,” and at a national dance competition in the spring where I received a Platinum award. I got through our 2 year anniversary by visiting all of the places we used to go to together. I attended his brother’s body building competition to see his routine to honor Duncan. I won two “Big Red Oscars,” one of them being best smile, the award I thought that he would always receive for the males, as well as best dancer. I attended dance conventions, and I got the opportunity to walk around Ford Field for the Muscular Dystrophy Association along side of my camper that I went to summer camp with along with Duncan. I attended a Leadership statewide conference where my student government got the Star school award, and the Award of Excellence. I was given the opportunity to volunteer at Lutz High School which is a special education learning center where they held a spring dance. I was also able to participate in Kids Kicking Cancer where I got to hear stories from children with cancer and all of their battles while I happily painted their faces to look like whatever animal they wanted. I was given the opportunity to walk as a “model” in the Wesner Tuxedo show for seniors in high school with exceedingly high student involvement.I hosted my school’s second annual neon lights dance in which Duncan had helped a massive amount with the year before. Even made it in the art show! I took risks, and I made it through the year of his accident alive and happy and here is the video to prove it all. A Year Dedicated To Duncan Video

I am writing this article on a special day because today happens to be October 4th 2016, which marks my three year anniversary with Duncan. Today is the day three years ago where all of his wonderful contributions to my life began and created such a happy and headstrong women who could handle a situation that makes one so angry and distraught. A situation that can make or break you as a person. And thanks to Duncan Blair, I was made by the situation. I was made into the girl who could rather than the girl that could have. I now live each and every day missing him more than anything, but also striving to make him proud and to make something of myself the way he did so well. I live everyday like it could be my last and I never take advantage of anyone around me because there could be a day where they won’t be there anymore. I love this life that I live and I now in my heart that someday after this life, I will meet Duncan again where we will live happily ever after. Just like we were supposed to all along. And until then, I will continue living in face of all of my fears of losing everything in a heartbeat again, and do it for him. I will do it to be happy.

{Inspire Others By Following Your Dreams}

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” The question that we were all asked as children and the answer that society makes impossible to decipher. As kids, we told those curious people that we wanted to be movie stars, astronauts, actresses, or Olympic athletes. However once we grow a bit older we are forced to believe that we must have a job that pays well regardless of how much it makes you happy. At this point in life, we are probably graduating high school, deciding a college major and choose entrepreneurship or something in the medical field. Sounds like a good way to go right? That will make grandma and grandpa proud and that will make people look at me like I have a purpose. But what about following your dreams? What about getting paid to do something that you’re extremely passionate about? What about never having to work because you love your job so much?

My whole life I wanted to be a dentist. I always loved pulling out people’s teeth in second grade and I was obsessed with keeping my teeth white. When I got braces in middle school I thought they were so cool that they made people want to smile because they love their teeth and that’s when I decided I want to be an orthodontist to make people smile every day. I proceeded to start my journey to dental school by taking some extra sciences in high school like anatomy and human biology my junior year. It wasn’t until that year that I realized that I have been wrong all along about what I want to do with my life. I hate science! Why would I put myself through six plus year of dental school when it’s all science science science?! Looks like it’s back to career-cruising just like seventh grade.

That summer I volunteered at the Muscular Dystrophy Association summer camp 2015. Throughout the week, I was assigned a camper who has myotonic muscular dystrophy. His name was Steve. Steve was seven years old and could not speak. He is fed through a feeding tube five times a day, has to wear a breathing mask at night, has a suction machine for excess saliva that he is unable to swallow, has to wear diapers, and can only walk for certain periods of time. Steve communicated to me by making certain noises or pulling me in certain directions. When he wanted to cuddle, he took my head and put it on his lap to play with my hair. He loves his stroller and every time he sat in it he couldn’t go five seconds without buckling himself in and taking my waist to pull me behind the stroller signaling that he wanted me to push him around even if we were inside. I couldn’t help but be so insanely happy every time he laughed. He can’t really move his mouth and when he laughed he said “huh-huh-huh” and it would last for about fifteen minutes. He laughs at peek-a-boo games and whenever he feels strings or ribbons, he claps when he likes something, and when he sees the water he runs as fast as his little legs can until he reaches the water. He will just stand their laughing at it and every time the shore line hit his feet he would run from it. When Steve gets tired, even if he is sitting strapped in to his stroller, he will get out and insist that I hold him like a toddler. Steve made me so happy no matter how much drool dripped down my shoulder that week.

At this point in my life I was confused. I didn’t know what I was passionate about and I just wanted a job that made a lot of money so that I would be able to some day support a large family (which I want more than anything) and live in my dream home with a ton of dogs. ‘Business it is!’ I thought. I then wanted to go into hospitality to someday own my own hotel or country club, or some type of event entertainment facility. Trying to relate this to things I am passionate about I thought, ‘Why not Disney?’ I love Disney and it has always been a goal of mine to have a job as a character in Disney through the Disney College Program and an internship to follow DCP. This is it. I will do the Disney College Program, I will get to be a character, AND I will be able to have work experience in Disney that will look great when I build my hotel here someday. This was the path I was on graduating high school.

After speaking to multiple different academic advisors and school counselors, I was still just so unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I would be great in business because I have such an outgoing personality and I work so well with compromising and with people in general. That comes naturally. However, I don’t necessarily believe that this is what would make me happiest. Ever since Muscular Dystrophy camp I kept in the back on my mind that I would really love to do something like that in my everyday life but there is no way of making a good amount of money off of that unless I were to go in the medical field, which puts me back at ‘I hate science.’

Watching all of my friends decide what they are majoring in in college, I couldn’t help but realize how perfectly fit their major was to their strengths and weaknesses. All I wanted was to feel that way about what I am studying. This is when one day I brought up that thought in the back of my head to my boyfriend. “I honestly think about doing something with special needs children all the time I just don’t know what kind of job I could have that I could make a happy living off of” I explained. The first thing he replied without much time after reading that was “Honestly Julia, you would be amazing at that.” That moment made me realize that it doesn’t matter what I get paid. If I am amazing at it, why put that to waste? This conversation changed my life. This was it. This is what I want to do every day for the rest of my life. This was the moment I realized I want to help children with special needs because this is what I love and this is what I am good at. This will make me happy each and every day and there is no other job that will do that for me. This is my new dream.

At CMU, I am currently a Special Education Cognitive Impairment major and I plan on becoming a teacher at a special needs elementary school, rather than a public school, to work with kids just like Steve. I hope to succeed in this field regardless of what I get paid, and still be able to support my big family in my dream home with many dogs, but on top of all of that, have my dream job. And so to answer the riveting childhood question, when I grow up I want to follow my dreams.