Where are they now? Otter Valley Union High School – Amanda Sanderson, 2010

Otter Valley Union High School – Amanda Sanderson, 2010
Hometown, current residence, age: I grew up in Goshen, Vermont; I currently live in Birmingham, Alabama. I turned 25 years old at the end of May.
Family: Raymond and Candy Counter are responsible for any and all success I have, and my siblings — Heather Bruce, Joshua Bruce, Katie Counter and Ashley Sanderson — all helped develop my character.
What I am up to: I am finishing my third year working for the nonprofit Impact Alabama part of a national organization called Impact America. I am currently the program coordinator for the SpeakFirst high school debate team, and next year I will be the program manager of SpeakFirst. My primary role is with the high school debate team, we have 20 students on the team who join when they are rising freshmen and complete the program when they graduate from high school. We are the only rigorous debate program available to students in Birmingham City Schools.
As the program coordinator, I make all the travel arrangements for debate tournaments; manage parent communication, tutors and community volunteers; and handle debate camp logistics. I am also one of the four coaches for the team; my coaching responsibilities include researching each topic, editing student work, and lesson planning for our practices.
Becoming a debate coach was an unexpected, but welcome surprise. I am grateful for the experiences I’ve had with Impact Alabama and the SpeakFirst program.
How I got to where I am now: I graduated with honors from Saint Michael’s College in 2014. I initially entered college as a psychology major, but after taking a freshman seminar, I chose to create my own major in Peace and Justice Studies. My interest in social justice began during high school (thank you to Mr. Dwyer, Mrs. Roberts, Mrs. Dardeck, and many more) and coalesced in my belief that I should study what I care about. While deciding to change my major, my parents were hugely supportive of my decision.
I worked on campus in several capacities throughout my college career. I was lucky enough to be hired as a Residential Assistant for two years, and I worked part-time as a waitress for the final two years of my college career. In the fall of my senior year, I applied for the National Service program AmeriCorps. I was accepted, and chose to move to Alabama in July 2014. I wanted to experience a new part of the country while doing service and this seemed like the perfect fit.
Everyone that I met in college had an influence on where I’ve ended up today. Never take for granted the people that you surround yourself with — they will have an effect on you, either positive or negative.
Adults to whom I can attribute my current success: The major influences on my life have always been my parents and my teachers. I am very lucky to have had a plethora of teachers that truly love what they do. If I hadn’t felt their commitment to education, I doubt I would be where I am today.
How my Vermont roots have influenced who I am today: I love Vermont and all it offered me. Living so far from Vermont has been a truly interesting experience. I miss the level of community engagement that Vermont offered, as well as the green mountains and the work that each individual puts into making their home a better place. The city I live in has more than 1 million residents; Vermont has less than 600,000 residents. My perspectives, experiences and beliefs are uniquely shaped by being a Vermonter; I would be completely different had I been raised elsewhere.
My memories of high school: I had a pretty good high school experience. I would say my worst points were when I gave up on myself. I’ll always wish I had worked harder in my math and science classes. I think I could’ve proven to myself how capable I was. I didn’t learn until later that no one is bad at something forever; they simply have to commit themselves to incremental improvements over a long period of time.
My greatest achievements and happiest times were always connected to basketball and softball or my language arts/history classes. I will always appreciate the teammates I had, the classmates I had, and the instruction I received both on and off the field.
My advice for this year’s crop of graduating seniors: To the class of 2017: Congratulations! I urge you to be wise with your summer, to hug your parents and appreciate all they have done for you and all they will do for you. Enjoy your time with friends, save some money, and prepare yourself for the adventures ahead. When you get to your next adventure meet everyone you can, try everything available to you, reach and strive for new opportunities. Have internships, volunteer, take the time to give back to the communities that have made you who you are.

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