Seventh grade changed everything for Sydney Henson ’14. That was the year she arrived in a new city and at a new public school. It was also the year she got cut from the volleyball team.
Despite the challenges, Henson learned important lessons about friendship and determination that are helping her today in her roles as a resident assistant (RA) and as a co-captain on Randolph College’s volleyball team. She also believes they will be crucial in her future career in special education.
“Going to that new school was one of the best things that happened to me,” she said. “It opened doors to a lot of experiences that I had never had before.”
On the first day of seventh grade, Henson remembers standing in the crowded cafeteria and feeling out of place in a room full of strangers. Finally, a few students waved for her to sit with them. Henson soon realized that they were in the school’s special education program. Most had Down Syndrome, and a few had autism. But their physical differences did not matter to Henson, and they became her best friends.
“There was an immediate connection,” Henson said. “After that, I volunteered in Special Olympics every year. I felt like it was my calling.”
Later, Henson tried out for the volleyball team and did not make it. “That really drove a nail in me to push myself,” she said. She joined a private team so she could practice. One year later, she earned a spot on the school team.
Looking back, Henson realizes that time was a turning point in her life. She is now studying to be a special education teacher because she sees an opportunity to really make a difference in people’s lives. One of the reasons she chose Randolph was because it offers a master’s degree that can be obtained with one additional year of school.
During her first year at the College, Henson found herself again in the situation of being new to a school. This time, she knew the way to get involved was to reach out to more people, the way her friends had reached out to her in middle school.
She found many opportunities to do that. As an RA and volleyball co-captain, Henson helps first-year students transition into college life. She was also selected as a Gold Key Guide and chosen as a Davenport Leader. And during the 2011–12 academic year, she completed an internship and student-teaching assignments at a Lynchburg private school for children with special needs and at a local public middle school.
“I know so many more people this year. My free time is spent doing productive things,” she said. “I’m doing community service. And that’s what I wanted.”