EAF: How did the opportunity for you to attend the trip come about?
Jackson: Since I am an Ambassador for the Eagle Academy Foundation, my school guidance counselor asked me if I wanted to attend the Fund II Foundation program out in Colorado, and I gladly accepted the opportunity.
Simmons: I was very excited when I heard about the program through my ambassador coordinator, Dr. Garner. He told me about the trip, and we spoke to my principal about the opportunity. I was immediately excited once I discovered I would go with some of my peers. I’d also be able to meet students around my age and go so far out of New York to Colorado, which I knew would be an enjoyable experience. Also, I met Mr. Smith last year during an interview with the ambassadors, so I knew his values. We looked up to him and did a lot of research about him. I knew he was interested in improving his community through youth engagement.
EAF: Tell me a little bit about the trip. How long were you there? What are some of the things you did daily?
Jackson: We attended the trip for seven days. We went through many social and mental exercises that shifted our mindsets by the end of the week. And we had workshops where we learned about climate change, horses, birds, coding, engineering, entrepreneurship, and so much more. We also learned how to communicate better and respect each other’s beliefs.
Simmons: When we first met on the first day, it was crazy how it was almost as if we had known each other our whole lives. We immediately clicked when we met people from Colorado, California, North Carolina, Mississippi, and all these different places. It was a great experience to meet people and already have such a strong bond. We also took a personality test and talked about how everyone’s personality is as unique as their fingerprint. Even within an exact personality type, there will still be one or two small things that are different about you than others. Some days, we would split off into two groups; one group went fly-fishing, while another did a climate change seminar and horseback riding.Mr. Smith joked: ‘Millionaires golf, but billionaires fly fish.’ It was great to have that experience at our age and someone to look up to give us this insight into what it would be like and what we can have if we put our minds to it. Each day, we ended off with a Drum Circle; there was an amphitheater with instruments. It was nice having those moments. Each day, we grew stronger and stronger together. We journaled about different experiences we had in life, and our counselors even participated. There were times it got emotional. Many people were able to break down barriers that they couldn’t break down at home. So they could have this space, and have these people they were comfortable speaking to about different things happening in their lives was therapeutic for them. Every day was jam-packed with something to do.
EAF: As you look back and reflect, how would you describe the experience?
Jackson: Mind-blowing because I didn’t think I would be able to take this type of trip to where I could get these types of benefits that could change my life. The communication among the students was excellent because we connected like we knew each other [for years]. That was a great way of dealing with each other because we got to hang out more rather than not get to know each other, or how should I say, we connected right off the dot when we got off the plane and started talking in the car on our way to the program itself. On the last day, we connected and were given all these gifts and exchanged emails to stay in contact with one another. The last day was the most memorable. The counselors were telling us what to look forward to in the future.
Simmons: I remember the first day we got there and getting to know each other. I will remember and keep with me the experience of being able to connect with the group. I will remember many lessons on financial literacy, climate change, and learning about everyone’s life experiences. I lived in a billionaire’s house for a week! You know, just being able to say that it’s just insane, and being able to remember the experiences I had with those people, it’s crazy to be able to do that! The Director of the Fund II Foundation, Ms. Linda, was there the entire time. She was with us daily, and we got to know her and her family. Her granddaughter and her great-grandson were there. They were just unique experiences and memories that we received. For example, her great-grandson, he’s about three, but he was very smart and articulate. He would run around where we would be doing different seminars and workshops. These little things made the experience big for us, something we can never forget.
EAF: What are some of your goals for the upcoming school year?
Jackson: Some of my goals for my senior year are to finish strong. I want to leave a mark at my school that people think about me [and my positive influence] when they think about the choices that they’re making. I want people to remember who I am instead of thinking, ‘Oh, this person just left to go to college.’
Simmons: My goal for my senior year is to make it as memorable as possible. Within the last three years since I started high school, I became increasingly involved in my school environment beyond academics. Before that, I just went to school and went home. I was never much of a school community person. There was a switch [during the pandemic] where I found my voice. It also had to do with the ambassador program, meeting new people, and stepping out of my comfort zone to get to know them, interview them, ask them questions, and be more of a public speaker. Something clicked when we went back to school during my 11th-grade year, and I wanted to be involved in everything possible. I learned that my experience would only be as good as I made it.
Read more about Drequan’s experience via the Eagle Blog