My journey to becoming a Coca-Cola Scholar is as unique as is for each Scholar, but for me this scholarship proved to be a defining moment after years of physical and mental recovery.
Just like rainbows come after rain, miracles come after struggles.
For me, this major obstacle began when I was six years old. I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the entire body. In middle school, I attended classes on a part-time basis and could barely walk up the stairs by myself. Emergency situations followed as my bone marrow stopped working from medications and my body began deteriorating. As a 9th grader, I weighed 60 pounds, was fed through a PICC line, and went to the hospital weekly for infusions. My large intestine was removed, and several surgeries and procedures followed.
That same year, I lost my best friend to Crohn’s Disease (very similar to Ulcerative Colitis) and Osteosarcoma. Before he passed away, we both felt the need for more advocacy for individuals with chronic conditions. The creation of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Crohn’s and Colitis Teen Times, came soon after.
Now, three years later, I blog for U.S. News (often featured on Yahoo! News and the Huffington Post), and a United Nations Alliance. Furthermore, I serve as a motivational speaker at corporate events, leadership conferences and Children’s Miracle Network-sponsored dance marathons.
This past weekend, I was able to meet incredible Coca-Cola Scholars who have a similar drive to overcome struggles they have endured. I've been to many camps and conferences, but Coca-Cola Scholars Weekend in Atlanta was by far the greatest and most meaningful experience I've ever had. Here’s a quick recap.
My fellow Scholars arrived, and we all broke the ice pretty quickly over lunch. Soon after, we dressed for the banquet and received a warm welcome from Mark Davis, president of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. The highlight of the day was to hear David Rubenstein, arguably one of the greatest and most genuine philanthropists for America, speak about his journey to work in the White House and recently purchase a Magna Carta for the country, rising from a very modest background. On Thursday, I learned that it’s OK to fail, and to accept failure gracefully.
The Leadership Development Institute formally started and we began discussions with small groups of Coke Scholars and a mentor. Afterwards, we visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta, where we heard the CEO Derreck Kayongo speak about his personal journey with human rights and why he founded the Global Soap Project. On Friday, I learned that empathy can and should be applied to every situation and to every person’s challenging situation. I have often written about how powerful empathy can be, but after visiting the Center for Civil and Human Rights, it was apparent that the majority of the population is not aware of the dramatic fight for civil rights that is occurring in developing nations.
Saturday was the last day of our Leadership Development Institute, and one I will never forget. What was different, overall, about this leadership development program was that it focused more on personal connections. After parting from our small groups, we visited the World of Coca-Cola, where I tried every single flavor (including Beverly) and enjoyed getting to learn about the philanthropy of Coca-Cola and how much they truly value giving back to the community. Soon after, we departed to do a community service project for Parklane Elementary School, and were able to do hands-on activities that promoted reading and making the school a more conducive learning environment.
Whether it was consistently losing at a game of spoons, playing Cards Against Humanity well into the night, or pulling my first all-nighter, Coca-Cola Scholars Weekend was a weekend that will go down as one of the best three days of my life. A few days later, and I still have nostalgia of the experiences, and most of all, the inspiring and future world-changing people I met.
Coming back from Scholars Weekend, I am even more motivated to keep giving back and set my goals even higher. I am currently undecided as to which college I will attend, but will most likely study international relations (diplomacy) and public policy. I'm currently working towards creating a first-of-its-kind national leadership conference for teenagers suffering from chronic illnesses. I have also begun training to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to show the world that chronic illness really cannot define your abilities.
One of the greatest things I have learned, however, is that it is possible to create a family in three days. I have felt personally connected to all 149 Coca-Cola Scholars, whether I had an opportunity to talk with them or not.
So cheers to the most genuine and inspiring group of people I have ever met: the class of 2016 Coca-Cola Scholars. And cheers to Coca-Cola for believing in us all and empowering us to make an even bigger impact together.
Sneha Dave is a 2016 Coca-Cola Scholar and senior at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Indiana, who founded The Crohn’s and Colitis Teen Times a newsletter designed to support teens with inflammatory bowel disease. She is a motivational speaker, especially at fundraising events supporting Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, where she received treatment, and the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. She was named a 2013-14 Riley Champion by the Riley Children's Foundation. A big believer in equal opportunities for children and teens with chronic illnesses, Sneha is working with Riley Children's Foundation to design a leadership development conference to benefit those youth. Follow her @ on Instagram and Twitter: @snehadave98.