Interview by Zoe D'Angelo Nomination and Photography by Jaki Good Miller Photography West Virginia
The Nomination: During the summer before her sophomore year, Caitlin Cowell’s hometown of Richwood, West Virginia was devastated by a flood that destroyed her high school and forced students to be relocated to an abandoned grade school. Despite the adversity, Caitlin has managed to do something few can boast—she is an upcoming freshman in the Harvard class of 2023. Caitlin is the senior class president, student council vice president, a member of National Honor Society, a majorette, the clarinet section leader, and the top varsity distance runner on her school’s track and cross country teams. A LEADER inside and outside of the classroom, Caitlin boasts many awards and honors including an AP Scholar award, three All-State track awards, and multiple titles as a part of the majorette line. She actively volunteers in her community and helps to serve her peers as a part of the Christian Young Life organization.
Tell us about your transition to the abandoned grade school after the devastating flood. The transition between school situations following the flood was interesting, to say the least. It was an undeniably bleak scenario, but one that students, faculty, and the community as a whole worked to make the best of. The hardest part was the lack of space that the grade school/portable pods combo offered. The first year we had no room for science labs of any kind and teachers had to work harder to adapt their teaching plans to the space available. Three years later, there is still no room for quintessential high school activities like pep rallies, class tournaments, or Greek week festivities. It has taught everyone how important it is to cherish what you have and not dwell over what’s missing.
When did you become interested in cross country and track? I started my running career in the 6th grade as a way to get involved at school. By the end of the season, I realized that I had the potential to be competitive in the sport. Running has taught me the value in hard work and determination and the importance of having a team that supports you along the way. It’s become such an important part of my life that I can’t imagine stopping anytime soon.
Photography by Jaki Good Miller
Tell us about you Christian Young Life Organization and your duties within. The Young Life program has allowed me to serve others while exploring and cultivating a relationship of my own with my Creator. One of the truest lessons Young Life has taught me is how important it is to make sure your spiritual health is flourishing before you try to help others. I think that’s a lesson everyone needs to learn and can be applicable whether you are religious or not. I am a senior Young Life leader at my school. I help run Campaigners (Bible studies), Young Life Clubs, and help to spread God’s word. As a leader, I received the opportunity to serve as a “buddy” at a Young Life Capernaum camp. Capernaum was created solely for giving people with disabilities the chance to experience the love of God with no judgment. At camp, I saw the “outcasts” of society honored for their differences. It is an experience I will forever cherish.
Photography by Caitlin Cowell
Congratulations on getting into Harvard! I’m sure your family and community are excited for you! What is your success formula? I am so proud of being accepted to such a prestigious school and joining such an accomplished class, but there was no secret formula for success that got me there. I’m a dreamer at my core. I knew I wanted to accomplish something out of the ordinary and worked every day to put that dream into fruition. I was lucky enough to have my friends, family, and school supporting me the whole way.
What are you most excited about when thinking about going to school there? I love the town where I have grown up, but it is very typical of poor, rural areas in West Virginia. Families live in poverty and drug abuse is an issue, but there is a sense of community that is found nowhere else. More than anything, I am so excited to have the opportunity to experience life so different from what I’m used to. The diversity, freedom to explore your interests and map out your own education, and connections to the world made Harvard into a bit of a fairy tale for me. I hope to take what I learn there and implement it into my home-state and the world around me. What will you be studying? Currently, I want to study Cellular and Molecular Biology with the hopes of attending medical school.
What advice would you have to give younger teens on being inspiring (like you!)? When I think of someone inspiring, I think of someone fighting for the rights of minorities, supporting the less fortunate, or overcoming insurmountable odds. If you had to take anything from my story, I want it to be that you don’t have be great in all aspects to achieve your dreams. Find what you are passionate about and work every day to make it your reality.