Carter earns Congressional medals.
Photo by Stephanie Gross.
Jehan Carter (Government, Spanish ’04 ) sits behind the counter at The Dance Store, where she works two afternoons a week, reading from a textbook as she juggles a bowl of pasta salad she’s trying to eat for lunch. Between helping one customer find the right dance shoes and another choose the correct leotard for her granddaughter’s dance school, she tries to sneak in a few minutes of studying.
At 20, Carter has become adept at juggling. In addition to the usual activities of young adulthood, for the last four years she has taken on the added challenge of participation in the Congressional Award program. This privately funded initiative of the United States Congress encourages young people ages 14 to 23 to set and achieve challenging goals that expand them personally and reward the community through volunteer service.
On June 26, 2002, Carter was among 108 young Americans honored at a star-studded gala in Washington where, like an Olympic athlete, she was presented with the program’s highest award, the Gold Medal. A recipient of the bronze and silver medals as well, she also bears the distinction of being the first resident from the District of Columbia to achieve the gold since 1990.
“It’s all about balance,” she said.
Carter has been part of the program since her sophomore year in high school when she started working for the bronze award. As a Gold Medal participant, she was required to complete at least 400 hours of voluntary community service, 200 hours of personal development activities, 200 hours of physical fitness and four consecutive days and nights of an exploration or expedition.
With definite ideas about what’s important and where she wants to go in life, Carter created a program for herself that supported her ambitions.
“I think a good way to help society is to help kids,” she said. So many of her service projects involved working with children: teaching dance at a day care center in her Washington neighborhood, coaching kids at a summer camp, serving as a role model and mentor to local youth at the Madison House Boys and Girls Club.
As a pre-law student, Carter joined U.Va.’s Collegiate Mock Trial Team where students compete against other schools in realistic courtroom scenarios. Along with a fashion-modeling workshop she took, this experience contributed to the personal development component of the award. Both activities helped her gain confidence and poise and allowed her to develop skills and insights in areas in which she would otherwise not have been involved.
Similarly, Carter used the physical fitness and exploration/expedition requirements to stretch herself beyond the normal limits. In fitness, she concentrated on dance, taking classes and working with U.Va.’s Mahogany dance troup. And a European study tour with her high school Spanish class fulfilled the exploration/expedition need.
“The experience and exposure was well worth it,” she said. “You learn to be self-sufficient, focused, disciplined, and it really makes you organized.”
The Congressional Awards seek to honor the unsung accomplishments of America’s youth. In this case another unsung hero is Carter’s mother, Charlotte. She credits her mom with making her aware of the award program and inspiring and supporting her efforts all along the way.
“I was going to quit after I won the bronze,” she admitted. “That was enough. But my mom said, ‘No, we’re going to do this right.’”
Carter is proud of her remarkable accomplishments, which she recognizes will continue to serve her in whatever she chooses to do in life.
“The best thing about the award is you don’t win it, you earn it,” she said. “You always get something out of it when you help other people.”