I used to think that people related to my strengths, that if they saw how I was broken, surely they wouldn’t be impressed with that. So I showed off the parts of me that I thought they wanted to see — the resume stuff. And I hid the broken parts. But what I didn’t realize, as a kid, and even as an adult, is that we all have broken stuff. Family dysfunctions, relationship troubles, health issues, financial woes, personality flaws. And it’s when we can be open about our struggles that people can relate to us. I see this again and again on a teenage scale when we run our Fellowship Program.

Throughout both January and February, our Admissions Committee and I read almost a couple hundred applications from high school students applying to our Fellowship Program.  We choose 40 projects to interview from this impressive group. I’m thrilled to announce that this year, we’re able to sponsor 23 projects run by 50 Dragon Fellows this summer, putting over $100,000 back into the community. One of the parts of running the Dragon Kim Foundation I enjoy most is meeting the potential Fellows during the interview process. But what I’ve realized is that it’s not the facts and figures I remember most, but the stories. When these teenagers talk about why a project is important to them, it’s not the numbers that convince me, but the stories that they share.

Nadia came to us as an accomplished debate team captain, a trainer of debate society judges, and an accomplished medical researcher — at age 16! Though impressive, it wasn’t these accomplishments that opened our eyes. Nadia shared that in 8th grade, she fell ill while away at camp. She had to go to the hospital for tests, which led to more tests which led to a diagnosis of Guillain-Barre syndrome. When she couldn’t participate in a school function, a friend asked her why. When Nadia told her she was sick, that friend drew away as if this chronic condition were contagious. And thus began a journey of isolation where peers and teachers didn’t understand the loneliness of the chronically ill. But a seed of a solution started forming in Nadia’s mind as she thought about how she could shine light on this issue and create a place for such teenagers to receive understanding and support. We were all blown away by the courage it took for Nadia to share this story. We were all impressed with how she intends to channel her pain to change the situation for others.

When we congratulated Nadia for being awarded a Fellowship, she admitted that she had thought her interview had not gone well. Perhaps from a debater’s point of view, she hadn’t hit all the points that you’re supposed to hit in a speech or a debate, but that wasn’t what we were looking for. As much as we enjoy hearing fancy speeches, we’ve found that the students that have a real reason for why they do what they do are the ones that will make the most impact. So we ask them to share their story. Not every project we chose has such a personal background as Nadia’s, but every project is backed by such passion.

We applaud every teenager who applied, who took the time to think about what moves them, and to put down on paper how they plan to do something about it. We wish we could work with every one of these big-hearted high schoolers, but we had to choose a limited number of projects. We especially thank all our applicants for sharing their hearts with us. We’re moved by their dreams, their strengths, and their pain points. We’re excited to start working with this new class of Dragons, and we can’t wait to see what they accomplish!