June 16, 2019

The Heard Citizen’s Most Inspirational Person of 2018

(Franklin, GA) — Each January, the Heard Citizen attempts to pinpoint the most inspiring local person in the news from the prior calendar year.

In 2015 that person was the late Ms. Lilly Scott, in 2016 that person was Mr. Brett Smith and in 2017 we recognized Mr. Edward Potts.

Jessica Kirkpatrick (Photo: Malley Victoria)

Now we are pleased to announce Ms. Jessica Kirkpatrick as Heard County’s Most Inspirational Person of 2017.

Jessica Kirkpatrick was featured in our headlines in September after being nominated and then selected by her classmates to be a part of Heard County High School’s Homecoming Court.

The senior capped off her very special week after the student body voted her as the school’s 2018 Homecoming Queen.

Jessica has Autism, a genetic condition that can cause a range of developmental problems affecting communication and social interaction.

She has struggled socially at times during her school years and was even homeschooled for one year during middle school before returning to Heard County public schools in the 8th grade.

Jessica has made great strides during her time at Heard High School thanks primarily to a large group of accepting classmates, faculty members, and other staff who are some of her biggest fans and supporters.

Jessica’s name was placed on the ballot of potential nominees by her close friend since elementary school, Rickyeria Phillips. Jessica counts a long list of students as her friends and supporters although she says she doesn’t really like to pick favorites.

A few current students and formerly graduated students that she did name in addition to Rickeyria were PJ Cofield, Andrew Leak, Kiya Ramos, Juliannne Carpenter, Kaitlin Schwarzburg, Beth Taylor, Kristianne Culpepper, Samantha Minix, Taylor Caito, Alexis Nelms, Sage Kelley, Mattie Noojin, Neely Culpepper and Amiah Person.

She also pointed out current and former faculty and staff at Heard High for their tremendous support including Mrs. Jessica Adams, Mrs. Lori Cabe, Mrs. Mary Davis, Coach Kyle Yates, Coach Shane Lasseter, Mr. Lance Taylor, Mr. Brady Tillman, Mrs. Laura Barido, Mr. Bobby Cothran and the Heard High cafeteria staff.

Heard County Athletic Director Shane Lasseter said during Homecoming that Jessica should be an example to every freshman that may struggle to adapt in the first year of high school.

“Jessica has probably made one of the top five biggest transformations I have seen in my years here at Heard High — she’s gone from being a shy and bashful 9th grader to an outspoken and confident senior,” says Lasseter. “I am very proud of her and hopes she enjoyed everything about this Homecoming week.”

Jessica faces many challenges as an autistic student in a public school and situations have not always been ideal for her.

“Some of my challenges were my stimming getting in the way of doing tasks like schoolwork, leaving class, walking to class, going to eat lunch/breakfast and going to the restroom. Simply going from place to place, especially if it was across campus or not being able to go through a certain doorway that I needed to go through would completely throw me off,” says Jessica.

Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or words, or the repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities and most prevalent in people with autism spectrum disorders.

“Another challenge for me was feeling socially and academically withdrawn. My intentions and words would be misinterpreted by some people which resulted in drama and almost turned into physical altercations a few times. I also had trouble dating because I don’t know how to handle crushes,” she says.

2018 HCHS Homecoming Queen Jessica Kirkpatrick

“I faced a lot of rejection and never got to go on dates like other kids my age. I have also struggled with learning to drive because of sensory issues. I have been trying to learn for the past few years.”

Despite her many challenges, Jessica says that she is thankful for some very special times at HCHS.

“All struggles aside, my most rewarding experience is having people accept me despite a number of my differences along with being autistic. I’m glad to be graduating from the same school system I’ve attended all of my life. Last but not least, I’m happy to have been nominated to be on the Homecoming Court. It’s made me feel much more accepted than I thought I was.”

What ultimately made Jessica’s story so inspiring was the progress that she made both socially and academically even though times had been so tough for her during her younger years.

In fact she submitted the following heartfelt Letter to the Editor to HeardCitizen.com about bullying in September of 2012 when she was only a sixth grader:

“Dear Editor, I want to share my story about being bullied. I am 12 years old and I have Autism. I do things sometimes that make sense to me but not to other people. I wave my hands and move my body in certain patterns when I feel nervous and excited. I call this “my patterns”. My patterns help me calm down and make sense of my world. Since I was in Pre-K, some kids have done and said mean things to me. Even if I act like I didn’t notice, I did notice and it makes me feel bad. Sometimes it makes me cry. When kids look at me or talk to me in mean ways, it makes me feel unimportant, ugly and stupid. I’m like other kids in many ways. I love to listen to music, going outside, swimming and bowling. I want to make friends but it’s hard for me to know how to do that. If other kids would talk to me, they would see I am a nice person. Just remember, you don’t have to blow out someone else’s candle so your’s can shine brighter. Sincerely, Jessica Kirkpatrick (6th Grade)”

Jessica will graduate with the Class of 2019 on Friday, May 24 at Staples Stadium. Thank you Jessica Kirkpatrick for being such a tremendous inspiration to the Heard County community in 2018.

Comments

  1. RICKY MATTHEWS says

    Great article. Our youngest son has autism. We get to see first hand what Jessica was going through in the 6th grade. Our son has been the target of bullies and mean kids as long as i can remember. And Jessica is absolutely correct, if other kids would just give special needs children a chance. They could see that there really is a wonderful child inside begging for friends and a sense of normalcy. Thank you Heard Citizen for selecting her as Most Inspirational Person of 2018.

    • Shelly Sockwell says

      Mr. Matthews, Thank you very much for your support and encouragement.
      I hope your son will find that one friend who will stand up for him and be there for him. The quantity of friends pales in comparison to the quality of friends.
      Children with autism are so special, not because of autism. But because of their unique perspective of the world around them. They see what us Nuerotypical people fail to see. That is a wonderful and beautiful gift. Best wishes for your son and for your family. The challenges will ultimately reveal the blessings. I’m

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