A dear friend recently said to me, “I am truly thankful my children are grown today and we are not going through the anguish, emotions and uncertainties school age children and their families are living through.” 

As I sat there and reflected on the cancellations, changes and tough conversations we’ve had to have in our household over the last month, I couldn’t agree more with her.  

Though, it simply doesn’t compare to the roller coaster our high school seniors and their families are on! 

Annually, First Tee participants who have reached various tiers of criteria are provided the opportunity to apply for unique, often once in a lifetime, experiences, free of charge. These opportunities are created to recognize achievements through golf skills, life skills and education.  

Simply being eligible to apply for a national event is the first hurdle. Then comes an extensive amount of work to prepare application, complete essays, request letters of recommendation, build a school and community activities chart, and in some cases participate in an interview or video recorded question and answer series. 

Eligible participants are typically given a 60-to-90-day timeline to complete the application process, a process that deserves attention for the duration of this period. 

Sadly, these amazing opportunities are not immune to the effects of COVID-19. 

Twenty-four hours after Aubriana Bishop and Jaclyn Kenzel completed the process of applying for the John Deere Drive Your Future Academy — a national all-girls’ event that focuses on leadership development, remaining active in the game of golf, learning the value/impact of volunteerism, and recognizing the importance of teamwork — they received notice, “after thoughtful consideration with safety as our top priority, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 event.” 

My heart hurts for these ladies.  

Having had the opportunity to watch Aubriana and Jaclyn’s application evolve, I feel compelled to share a glimpse of their hard work with you.  

A senior at Union Pines High School, Bishop’s goal is to be able to inspire the world to appreciate and protect our planet’s beautiful complexity. She would like to earn a master’s degree in a specialty field of biology such as entomology, ethology or zoology to then be able to begin work in research and conservation. And then, one day, become a professor and have the opportunity to educate the next generation.  

One of Aubriana’s essay questions was to reflect on a personal mantra. Here’s what she said, “I have a mantra I’ve used since elementary school — I CAN. While it’s very basic, it’s limitless in practice.” 

Aubriana explained her mantra dated back to playing softball. She was in the dugout waiting to bat and voiced her concerns about being struck out to her coach, he told her not to worry, not to simply think she could but to know she could. So, Aubriana got up to bat and smashed the ball with the words “I CAN” echoing through her mind the entire time. 

Aubriana stated in her essay, “Anytime I encounter a hard topic in school or I’m overwhelmed with homework, I take a step back and tell myself I CAN, no matter how tough it may seem in the moment. Telling myself this phrase never fails to up my confidence and ease my stress. Finally, it’s been a huge motivator for me in golf. The last three years of learning the sport have definitely not been an easy task. But, with an inspiring mantra, I’ve been encouraged to try my very best every day. Thanks to these two simple words, I can be proud of the successful golfer and person I am today.” 

A senior at Pinecrest High School, Jaclyn Kenzel’s goal is to become a retina specialist. She’s mapped out a path to get there, too. From studying chemical engineering, attending medical school, and partaking in multiple residencies; she predicts after 13 years of work, she will achieve her goal! 

Jaclyn was also asked, ‘what is your personal mantra?’

She, too, was short and sweet — Be Positive! 

In her essay, Jaclyn explained how she tries to look on the ‘glass is half full’ side of life whether it be before a tournament, test or any situation she is struggling with. She reflected on failing her first AP class test her freshman year of high school. A motivator, she evaluated her study habits, remained positive that she knew the curriculum, got an A on the next test and rebounded with an A in the class!  

Later, Jaclyn explained the role First Tee has had in allowing her to stay thinking this way, stating, “My mentor, Coach Bob, taught me our mental approach can be the deciding factor between success and failure in any aspect of our life. My mindset can have a difference in my outcome. The more I repeat positive things, the better I’ll feel and the more I’ll believe in myself. I remind myself there will not be as many tough times if I stay positive and look for the good in every situation.” 

It’s ironic to look back on Aubriana and Jaclyn’s essay responses given our current environment. 

I can. Be positive. 

Their mantras have evolved throughout their young adult life but ring true today for each of us. 

As these young ladies, and many other high school seniors, battle the emotions of their spring and summer plans being uprooted, let’s take heed in their words, together, we can be positive and reflect in all the good that has come out of this new season of our lives. 

Congratulations Aubriana and Jaclyn. We are so proud of you and know the next chapter will be a success if you stick to your mantra.

Courtney Stiles is the executive director of The First Tee of the Sandhills. Contact her at cstiles@thefirstteesandhills.org.

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