Author: Boettcher Foundation

A Parent’s Pride – By Jennifer Meyers Let me just start by saying – our daughter is amazing! (But what parent doesn’t think that, right?) From the moment she was born, her dad and I knew we were in for quite the journey with her. For one thing, in the moments after her birth she hardly cried. Just stared at us with these huge, startlingly blue eyes. Since that day I’ve often said to others, “Aly sees the world from a unique and beautiful perspective. Her world is a spectacular place, and someday I’d like to live in it!” She has a gift for drilling straight to the heart of injustice, irony, and hypocrisy; but she also sees with amazing clarity the beauty, the inspiration, and the optimism. So, when she told her father and I that she was a lesbian, we were neither disappointed nor surprised. We simply thought, “Okay, we’ve reached a new path in her life’s journey.” I know that on the surface this is not the most enthusiastic response, but let me explain. Aly came out to us around the age of 12, which she recalls as a series of messy but necessary conversations with her parents, a pivotal time for her. For us it was different. You see, what she didn’t know was that her father and I had already had years’ worth of late-night conversations, contemplating the various futures for our children. Including asking, “What if one of our daughters is gay?  Does it change her future? Does it change our love for her?” And the biggest surprise to us was that the answer to these questions turned out to be “yes”. As a lesbian, Aly’s future will be fraught with challenges to her identity from those who believe personal freedoms and personal choice only apply to those who look and act like them. She’ll face a double whammy of discrimination, as a woman and a lesbian. She’ll have to put up with lewd comments from young men who think they can “turn” her. She’ll face a world that isn’t designed to connect two lesbian soulmates. Having a child with her soulmate, if they choose to have one, could be challenging. So yes, it does change her future. It will be different from what straight women experience. No less wonderful, but different nonetheless. Does the fact that she’s lesbian change our love for her? YES – our love for her is all the more intense knowing that despite these many challenges, she’s bravely come forth at such a young age to face them head on with courage, with pride, with maturity, and with composure. She knows who she is, and she’s not afraid to live the life she was destined for. Amazing! She’s our daughter – a writer, a poet, a lover of animals, an athlete, a great big sister — and a lesbian. And we are so proud!   A Child’s Pride – By Aly Meyers When I came out to my parents, nothing really changed at first; coming out to them was a gradual process that took about a year. I told them when it was relevant and moved on. Life didn’t stop, World War 3 didn’t start, the only difference was that I was a little bit more my authentic self. However, coming out doesn’t mean that you suddenly start being real. It doesn’t mean that you immediately buy a pride flag and get into politics. After being in the closet for so long, it is hard to find your way out. It’s like having one foot outside of the closet and the other foot inside, still in the dark but having seen some of the light. Keeping up a façade for so long made it hard to distinguish what was a fabrication of identity and what was really me. I didn’t talk about the girls that I had crushes on, I didn’t tell them when I started dating them, and I didn’t talk about LGBTQ issues. I didn’t share my life with them even though I may have wanted to. Don’t cry for me, though. Eventually I found my way out of that dank closet. After all, it was cramped, smelly, and quite lonely in there. It is a moment of realization queer people have, where you come to accept that it does not matter if people are uncomfortable with your sexuality. People’s opinions about you are entirely their business and therefore their problem. It was never up to queer youth to make allowances for others. Even after coming to that realization, though, all of the slurs and news stories and laws and speeches and other hateful crap weighs on you. It can be lonely. It can be scary. And now, many of you straight readers may be asking yourselves, “How can we help?” but to be frank there is no easy solution. To all parents of LGBTQ children and anyone wishing to be a better ally, my only advice for you would be to have an open mind. My parents had no problem accepting that I was gay and sometimes they do not understand everything (that is to be expected), but what is important is that they listen to me. As a young lesbian, that is all I will ever ask of the older generations: to be open to new ideas and willing to listen to things that might make you uncomfortable. And, like my mom, be a superhero. ...

By Alex Gordon I am filled with a tremendous sense of gratitude and hope as I watch my eldest son graduate from high school and set out into the next chapter of his life. He spent the last four years attending George Washington High School, a school that has a long history and has been going through its own rebirth over the last decade. As a product of Denver Public Schools along with my wife, we are supporters of a strong public-school system and the power of a diverse student body. He chose the school as it felt just right, and little did we know that it was a place where he would find his tribe and ultimately himself. Within the first few weeks of his freshman year, he was cast in a version of Romeo and Juliet set not in fair Verona but in unfair 1920s Chicago where Mugsy and Capone lead their families in a heated rivalry. While his role was minor, it was here where the beauty of this inclusive environment would welcome and support all. Before the first show, the student director read a mission statement from the thespian troupe that vowed to foster, support, and encourage the diversity and equality that today’s society is continuing to wrestle with. The audience was then treated to a wonderful rendition of the Shakespearean story while staying true to its original creator’s vision, with gender-bending roles played by non-binary actors. Our son had found his people and learned as much from his fellow artisans about humanity as any textbook or lecture could hope to convey. After four years of learning, exploration, and experimentation, our son walks out into the world with a well-rounded education in academics and life. His confidence in himself is only matched by his compassion and love for his fellow person. He embarks on his next stage with the understanding that the world is not just black or white, male or female, gay or straight, conservative or liberal, but filled with beautiful souls who will inspire him to achieve great things. We sat in amazement as he role modeled to his younger siblings what you get when you mix individual passion with a loving community, as he capped his high school career with a performance of “Sugar Daddy” by Hedwig & the Angry Inch in full drag. While I look back on four years of amazing performances and tremendous growth for our son, I am grateful for a high school administration, faculty, and community that have embraced these students for who they are and not tried to fit them into predetermined boxes of societal expectations. I am equally filled with hope that these graduates reflect the positive movement our world is making towards broader inclusion and acceptance of ALL people. There is still work to be done, but for this proud father, we are on the right path....

Boettcher Scholar Year: 2008 Hometown: Denver/Thornton College(s), Degree(s): University of Denver, 2012, BA in Sociology with minors in Spanish and Leadership Studies; University of Denver, 2013, MSW with a concentration in High Risk Youth; University of Northern Colorado, 2021, Ed.S. in School Psychology Tell us about your current work and how long you’ve been doing it. What is your favorite aspect of your current occupation? I've been a school social worker in Mapleton Public Schools since graduating in 2013. In 2018 I went back to school to get my Ed.S. degree in school psychology which I just finished in May 2021. I'm excited to continue working for Mapleton because I've had such a wide range of opportunities to grow my skill set. I've worked with all ages, from preschool through 12th grade. Right now I'm working at a K-8 school and the ability to work with kids of all ages is the absolute best part of my job! What role has being a Boettcher Scholar played into where you are and what you are doing now? Being a Boettcher Scholar has given me the chance to figure out who I really want to be and how to be my best self. It gave me the chance to go to school not only once but now twice, which I know I never could have done without the support of the Boettcher community. It is my proudest accomplishment, and I strive to believe in myself the way Boettcher believed in me years ago. Tell us about your involvement in activities, organizations, or groups outside of work. I love being a part of the Boettcher Alumni community and I try to stay involved in events as much as possible. Outside of work, my favorite activity is spending time with my family, no matter what that looks like. What’s the best advice you’ve received and what advice do you have for current graduates entering your career field? The best piece of advice I've ever gotten was that while intelligence and knowledge go a long way, it's the hard work and dedication that will make you stand out from the crowd and go the extra mile. For anyone entering either the education or mental health fields, the best advice I can give is to remember the importance of self-care. It's a very challenging and very rewarding world, but you cannot pour from an empty cup. You have to remember to help yourself before you can help others. If you could have dinner with one person or a few people from history, whom would you choose and why? Let's go on this journey together, because I've never really had a solid answer to this question. Lately I've been fascinated by sign language. Over the years I've picked up a few simple words and phrases from working with preschool students and students with a variety of disabilities from very mild to more severe. It's been so much fun to discover. This brings someone like Helen Keller to mind because she was such an advocate for disability rights, and of course to have the chance to learn about sign language too....

DENVER, May 25, 2021 — Boettcher Foundation today announced the names of six leading Colorado researchers who are the newest recipients of grant funding through the Webb-Waring Biomedical Research Awards Program. The program supports promising, early-career scientific researchers, allowing them to advance their independent research and compete for major federal and private awards in the future. The 2021 Boettcher Investigators represent three of Colorado’s leading research institutions, Colorado State University, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and University of Colorado Boulder. Each researcher receives $235,000 in grant funding to support up to three years of biomedical research. The new Boettcher Investigators and their research topics are: Colorado State University Julie A. Moreno, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Microbiology, Immunology & Pathology - Protein misfolding neurodegenerative diseases and aging University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Joshua J. Bear, M.D., M.A., Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Neurology - Studying cortical networks in medication-refractory epilepsy Sarah E. Clark, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Otolaryngology - Host-pathogen interactions in the airway Craig M. Forester, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor; Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and BMT - Determinants of nascent gene expression in hematopoiesis Mia J. Smith, D.V.M., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics - B-cells in the pathogenesis of T1D University of Colorado Boulder Nausica Arnoult, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology - DNA repair and genome stability The $1.41 million in biomedical research grant funds facilitate the Boettcher Foundation’s goal to retain top scientific talent in Colorado. Katie Kramer, president and CEO of the Boettcher Foundation, said:   “The 2021 class of Boettcher Investigators represents some of Colorado’s most dynamic and promising researchers. These leaders are committed to developing treatments and cures that will improve health and change lives, as we’ve seen the biomedical research sector in action during this past year. The Boettcher Foundation is proud to support these researchers at a pivotal time in their careers and to contribute to the incredible advancements in health innovation underway in our state.” Since its inception in 2010, the Webb-Waring Biomedical Research Awards program has advanced the work of 82 Boettcher Investigators, including the 2021 class. Those researchers have attracted a collective $100 million in additional independent research funding from federal, state, and private sources. Ninety-six percent of award recipients remain at Colorado research institutions, advancing the Foundation’s mission of keeping Colorado’s top scientific minds in the state. Jennifer Jones Paton, president and CEO of Colorado BioScience Association, said: “Colorado BioScience Association thanks Boettcher Foundation for its enduring commitment to science and scientific research in Colorado. COVID-19 demonstrates the critical importance of science to our health, well-being, and economic stability. The Webb-Waring Biomedical Research Awards program invests in up-and-coming researchers, giving them support to continue their promising work in Colorado. I’m pleased to congratulate the Boettcher Investigators on this incredible honor.” The Boettcher Foundation has been a leading philanthropic supporter of biomedical research in Colorado for many years. For more information about the Webb-Waring Biomedical Research Awards, visit the Boettcher Foundation website. Photos of individual recipients are available by request. About the Boettcher Foundation: At the Boettcher Foundation, we believe in the promise of Colorado and the potential of Coloradans. Every day we champion excellence across our state by investing in our most talented citizens and high-potential organizations, because supporting their hard work and leadership will enable them to give back for years to come. About Colorado BioScience Association Colorado BioScience Association (CBSA) creates co-opportunity for the Colorado life sciences community. CBSA champions a collaborative life sciences ecosystem and advocates for a supportive business climate. From concept to commercialization, member companies and organizations drive global health innovations, products and services that improve and save lives. The association leads Capital and Growth, Education and Networking, Policy and Advocacy, and Workforce Cultivation to make its members stronger, together. Learn more: cobioscience.com...

Boettcher Scholar Year: 1992 Hometown: Akron College(s), Degree(s):Colorado State University, B.S. in Agricultural Economics, 1996; University of Wyoming College of Law, J.D. Law, 1999 Tell us about your current work and how long you’ve been doing it. What is your favorite aspect of your current occupation? I am currently a district court judge for the State of Colorado. My district is the northeastern seven counties and is the size of Massachusetts. I’ve been a state-court judge since 2004. My favorite aspect of the job is the mentoring and coaching that comes with the personal relationships you form in treatment courts. You have the opportunity to really impact a person’s life positively and watch as they realize the fullness of their potential. What role has being a Boettcher Scholar played into where you are and what you are doing now? Without the Boettcher Scholarship, I never would have been able to achieve what I have achieved. The Boettcher Scholarship changed my family tree. It lifted me from poverty and allowed me to be the first in my family to graduate from college. I could take on a reasonable debt for law school and then serve my country as an officer in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. The Boettcher Scholarship allowed me to focus on public service without the fear of servicing crushing education debt. My children know a better life than I did growing up. They see the American Dream in action through three generations from my parents to them. Tell us about your involvement in activities, organizations, or groups outside of work. I continue to serve my country as an officer in the Reserve Component of the JAG Corps. I serve in the Veterans of Foreign Wars and The American Legion. I volunteer at my kids’ school for various activities. What I like about volunteering is the sense of community connection and the understanding that my perceived problems in life pale in comparison to the problems others in my community overcome daily. What’s the best advice you’ve received and what advice do you have for current graduates entering your career field? The best advice I ever received is, as an attorney, all you have in this profession is your reputation. Guard it and never let it be called into question. The best advice I have for those entering this profession is there are three levels of right: moral, ethical, and legal. Strive to ensure your actions and leadership rise to the highest right, the moral right. If you could have dinner with one person or a few people from history, whom would you choose and why? If I could have dinner with one person, I would choose Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I always try to put Him above all else and act as He would. From dinner conversation I would gain insight on His ways and His parables. As the Son of God, He is the closest thing on Earth that we have to the Creator. I could ask Jesus questions about God and our relationship. This dinner would allow me to get some answers to the burning questions I have about my relationship with the Lord and His with us. I would get to know more about my faith and His plans for me....

Individual Honoree Announcement Girl Scouts of Colorado The Girl Scouts of Colorado and our nominating committee are pleased to welcome Katie Kramer, President and CEO, Boettcher Foundation, to the 2021 Class of Women of Distinction. Katie was selected as a Boettcher Scholar in 1993 and has been at the Foundation in various roles since 1997, including as the director of the scholarship program and vice president — a title she assumed at the age of 26. She's been recognized as one of Colorado's Top 25 Most Powerful Women, is known as an expert in the field of scholarship and has served the community on various boards. The Women of Distinction honor is bestowed annually upon 10 exceptional women in our community who have been selected by the Girl Scouts of Colorado’s nominating committee, comprised of Women of Distinction alumni. The women selected join a network of more than 500 alums and are shining examples of corporate, civic, and philanthropic leadership, who serve as role models for our female leaders of tomorrow. The Women of Distinction event combined with the newly formed Women of Distinction Network brings together a network of outstanding women who serve as mentors, guides, and examples of leadership to inspire our girls. Girl Scouts of Colorado will welcome the Class of 2021 honorees on September 29 at the Denver Botanic Gardens from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. The event has been reimagined with honorees and guests invited to engage in a comfortable, outdoor setting, allowing for safe social distancing. Event chairs are Kelly Brough, Woman of Distinction ’14, Donna Evans, Woman of Distinction ’09, Luella Chavez D’Angelo, Woman of Distinction ’05, and M.L. Hanson, Woman of Distinction ’15. “I am honored to welcome this year’s class of Women of Distinction. They are strong, bold, empowered women who represent the leadership and excellence that will inspire our girls to follow in their footsteps,” said Leanna Clark, Girl Scouts of Colorado’s Chief Executive Officer. Proceeds from the event will support Girl Scouts of Colorado’s crucial leadership development programs in entrepreneurship, outdoors, STEM, and life skills for more than 20,000 members across Colorado. We invite you to support Katie’s recognition by joining us as a sponsor. For more information visit www.girlscoutsofcolorado.org/ or contact Ashley Walsh at ashley.walsh@gscolorado.org...

Scholars to attend eight Colorado Institutions DENVER, May 4, 2021 — A group of Colorado’s most talented graduating seniors has been named 2021 Boettcher Foundation Scholars & Participants, marking the newest class of students to earn the influential scholarship recognizing the next generation of doers and difference makers. “These young leaders personify our mission to support the promise of Colorado and the potential of Coloradans,” said Katie Kramer, president and CEO of the Foundation. “The leadership and sense of responsibility to contribute to their schools and communities are what best describe the 2021 class. We’re ecstatic that they are staying home to contribute to our Colorado universities and colleges.” Established in 1952, the Boettcher Scholarship program annually awards scholarships to graduating high school seniors in Colorado. The four-year scholarship includes virtually all expenses to attend the Colorado school of the recipient’s choice: full tuition, fees, a book allowance, and an annual stipend for living expenses. The scholarship also includes programming and support to ensure that students reach their full leadership potential. Scholars are selected based on academics, service, leadership, and character. The Boettcher Scholar network includes more than 2,600 leaders who have gone on to make their marks in business, government, nonprofits, academia, and other industries. This year’s cohort includes the founder of Protect Pueblo, a collaborative network that set up COVID-19 health and safety regulations across four schools, a guest blogger for 9News, a Division I football player, and a Scholar who manages her own goat herd. “Our 2021 Boettcher Scholars are a diverse group who demonstrated their all-around excellence and dedication to serve as leaders in their respective communities,” said Tiffany Anderson, director of programs at the Foundation. “We are proud to have them become a part of the Boettcher community.” More than 1,600 students applied for the Boettcher Scholarship this year, which also marked the first time that the 100 finalists were interviewed virtually. Scholar names, high schools, college choices, and photos follow.    About the Boettcher Foundation At the Boettcher Foundation, we believe in the promise of Colorado and the potential of Coloradans. Every day we champion excellence across our state by investing in our most talented citizens and high-potential organizations, because supporting their hard work and leadership will enable them to give back for years to come.   2021 Boettcher Foundation Scholars & Participants ...

Press Release Governor's Office, State of Oregon Salem, OR — Governor Kate Brown announced today that she will appoint Justin Kidd to the Marion County Justice Court. Mr. Kidd will fill a vacancy created by the retirement of Justice of the Peace Janice Zyryanoff, who is retiring at the end of June. The appointment is effective July 1, 2021. “Justin Kidd brings patience, compassion, and experience to the Justice Court,” Governor Brown said. “Both his personal and professional experiences with the legal system have provided him with the empathy necessary to be Marion County’s next Justice of the Peace. I am confident that he will help ensure that all people in Marion County have access to justice, regardless of their circumstances.” ...

By Curtis L. Esquibel Today is going to be a good day in the eyes of Katrina Ruggles. The habitual optimist, this is the daily devotion she gives herself as she scans her overscheduled calendar. This day, in particular, has significance. Ruggles will teach in person to her middle and high school students in Center Consolidated School District 26JT for the first time in more than a calendar year. “We’re coming full circle,” she says, with joy radiating from her voice. “I think back to a year ago right before spring break and literally the day before we went into a training on trauma-informed care and responsiveness. And then COVID hits.” The timing on the training was prophetic and the year since certainly can be characterized as, at times, traumatic for students, families, and educators in the rural San Luis Valley District. But it has also been a year of so much more. A 21-year educator in the district whose multiple hats include counselor, teacher, and grantwriter, Ruggles says the past year has helped her rural district and community to rethink education with a perspective she has made her life’s work: focusing on the whole child. “We have placed a deeper emphasis on social emotional wellness,” said Ruggles, herself a mother of six with her kids ranging from early elementary to college age. “Keeping a spotlight on that has been my priority. Many teachers have been worried about lost learning, which is important, but my focus has been about lost connections.” Connecting is Ruggles’ superpower, and it always has been. A native of Sanford, a rural town located 45 miles southwest of Center, Ruggles has built her career on being a resource for her community. Her ability to mobilize people was never more evident than last spring and summer. First there was the rollout of a plan to call every one of the 400 families in the district multiple times to connect with them so that students could finish out the year successfully, in particular the 2020 graduating seniors. The other motivation of the phone calls – to ensure that every family could connect virtually to classrooms and each other. Not much to her surprise, Ruggles said nearly 60 percent of families didn’t have functional Internet at home. Upon seeing that data point, it was time to get to work. Ruggles’ team, called the Center Positive Youth Development, includes two parent liaisons and facilitators, a counselor, and a social worker. After three weeks of around the clock coordination with the Colorado Health Foundation, which provided funding support, and local providers Ciello and Go Jade, the families were online. This was a major feat for a district where 90 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Then, in combination with social services and the nonprofit organization she founded, Center Viking Youth Club, Ruggles helped coordinate drives to give away food, hand sanitizer, masks, and toilet paper. More than 1,500 people showed up for the drive, many of whom logged significant drive times for the support. Relationships with families, often spread miles apart across the 650 student district, were already built on a strong foundation. This is because Ruggles is known for one of her primary outreach strategies – in-person home visits. Though they were no longer possible, she shifted her focus to training other educators on how to conduct virtual visits with students and families. “Family and school partnership is something that has come out of COVID as an impetus for community-building,” said Ruggles, who manages a district grant portfolio currently of $2.3 million. The foundation of school-to-family collaboration is also helped by a district-mandated advisory period where the emphasis is on teachers knowing their students personally. At times, she said, teachers have pushed back against advisory because it adds to their daily list of responsibilities, sometimes outside of their subject matter expertise. “Suddenly there was less push back,” said Ruggles, who is currently finishing her Ph.D. program in counselor education at Adams State University. “Everyone was saying we have to check on our kids to see how they are. What we started to see was social-emotional wellness elevated in a way it hasn’t been before. We are at a tipping point to see positive change.” That change, Ruggles says, hopefully will continue with offering more flexibility with how and where students learn. Some students, she said, have found they learn better online while others recognize they are stronger learners in school. Behavioral issues have dropped dramatically this year, an interesting data point Ruggles says she will continue to follow. Leadership, Ruggles says, is focused on continuous improvement and thinking about how to prevent the mistakes or misses from the past. Two things that still haunt her: the inability to locate a few students and families last year and the increase of students who failed courses last spring and during the fall 2020 semester. Data are an important part of Ruggles’s work as she follows her students long after they graduate. She points out that in 2004, only 20 percent of the district’s graduates were going on to postsecondary education. For the past four years, that number has increased averaged about 91 percent. In thinking about COVID’s long term effects in education, Ruggles says she has her own worries as a parent when it comes to learning loss. In the same breath, she is quick to point out that her family doesn’t struggle for basic needs in the way many valley families do. For all families, she contends, the solution to overcoming COVID challenges and impacts is the same one she has dedicated her career to – relationship-building with a focus at the system-level that involves teams of educators, including teachers, faculty, administrators, and community resources. “Though this has been the hardest of years, we’re really on the cusp of something regarding the future of education,” she said....

By Kat Falacienski, 2020 Boettcher Scholar and Boettcher Foundation Intern “We need to take this virus seriously,” I insisted. It was early March 2020. “There are already fourteen cases in Washington, and I just saw a news report that estimated that the virus had been circulating there for six weeks!” My classmates stared at me dubiously. “And studies are already showing that the novel coronavirus is both more contagious and more deadly than the flu.” They shrugged it off, some telling me that I was being silly. A part of me began to hope that there was a massive pandemic just so I wouldn’t turn out to be wrong. Two weeks later, though, I was proven right. On March 13, I walked the halls of my high school one last time before boarding the bus home, to my new life of social distancing. By May, I had applied for a gap year from college. My father has several pre-existing conditions that put him at heightened risk for severe COVID (he refers to himself as Corona Bait™), so I didn’t want to risk in-person schooling. Remote learning, despite my teachers’ best efforts, had been haphazard. Typically I’m a perfectionist, but now I struggled just to keep up. I didn’t want my first college courses to be like this. I have been social distancing for over a year now. Fortunately, my mother can work from home and make enough money to support us, so I don’t have to risk my life in essential work. I can leave the house to walk the dog, ride my bike, and little else. After a few months of unemployment, I found remote work for a math tutoring company before taking a communications job at Boettcher. Through my now-electronic social interactions, I began to notice something interesting. I’m autistic, and while my autism isn’t all of who I am, it affects every facet of my life. As a result, I was social distancing long before the rest of the world was. I’m used to isolation, having been an outsider for most of my life. I’m used to feeling worn out from ordinary conversation (which is why I find the phrase “Zoom fatigue” incredibly amusing). I’m used to living in uncertainty, having only a blurry idea of what the future would hold. During remote learning, my classmates began to complain of the very things that I’d taken for granted, and I realized that, suddenly, they were living my life. Half the country was living my life. I had long suspected that most people would have difficulty handling an experience like mine, but I had always felt a sort of pride in that. I was tough, hardened by the world in a way that these people could not possibly grasp. But when I heard my classmates lamenting the time they should’ve been spending with their friends, time that was now spent staring at dusty corners and grubby computer screens, or the torrent of anxiety stirred by being alive in the current moment, or even just the lingering notion that something was off — I felt that. And I could no longer pretend that I was tougher or more capable, because I wasn’t. I had been inadvertently prepared, yes, but autism doesn’t come with a secret superpower that unveils itself only when there’s a deadly virus on the loose. Like many autistic people, I rely heavily on routine, most of which I lost overnight. Like my peers, I felt crushed by the world; reading the news was physically painful. There was even a point when I wished I could have a conversation with someone other than my parents — what a feeling! Just like my friends were getting a taste of what it was like to be autistic, I was getting a taste of what it was like to be neurotypical (non-autistic). Lockdown, for me, is almost over. My parents are getting vaccinated, and I will be eligible for the vaccine in a matter of days. Herd immunity will be achieved in the United States. But while I’m excited to get out of my parents’ house and into college, I’m not pining for a “return to normal.” The concept of “normal” is variable, depending on who you are, where you live, the opportunities that you have or don’t. I hope that we as a society remember that as we advance beyond COVID. I hope that we not only prepare ourselves for the next pandemic (because, yes, there will be another one), but create a better, more accessible normal than the one we left....