Photo Captures Friendships, Growing Up Lessons

Photo Captures Friendships, Growing Up Lessons

In a Florida bus stop, a moment of inspiration led Jessica Shipman to grab a camera and capture the teen's smiles to land her the grand-prize-winning photo in the "Real Life, Real Choices for Youth" photo contest.

Friendship was her inspiration.

"The people mean a lot in my life. We don't need a lot to have fun, just each other," she said.

Her friends — Megan McColley, Manda Clifford, Julia Cochran, Chrissy Spencer and Jennifer Sanborn — were all fellow Lee High School seniors on a dance team competing in Florida in March 2002. Their togetherness is something Jessica looks at to help her make the right choices in this stage of her life.

"We learn to work together, not only as a dance team but as a group of friends," she said.

She won the first place in her age group and then the grand prize, which totaled $1,500 in scholarship money. The Right Choices for Youth Initiative is a multi-year effort coordinated by the Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Commonwealth University and the Institute for Youth Development. Its goals are to help youth focus on protective factors, to enhance factors that lead to success and to help them avoid unhealthy behavior such as alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sex and violence.

Jessica says this is the way her life is now.

"I've just chosen that path in my life," she said.

At 17, her schedule is busy with competitive dance and student government (SGA) participation at Lee. Jessica remembered one teacher at Lee who influenced her, Melissa Scott, English and leadership teacher, as well as SGA sponsor. Scott is a young teacher, and Jessica thinks that helps.

"She understands, she can relate better to our decisions. She is someone you can talk to," Jessica said.

Scott divulged her secret that she's used all four years she's been at Lee.

"I just deal with them as people, not just as students. I definitely encouraged her [Jessica], she did such a great job," Scott said.

JESSICA'S MOTHER, Rahna Hagar, knows her daughter’s artistic talents.

"She's very good at putting things together. She wrote a really nice essay with the picture. She's my creative kid," Hagar said.

The word count on the accompanying essay was the only thing that was a problem for Jessica.

"I had a lot to say about them, so it was harder to keep it short," she said.

The prizes were awarded in Richmond on Oct. 14. Most of the award-winners gathered with the Institute for Youth Development representatives.

"We all met them. I was a little nervous. It was in the General Assembly room," she said.