23 and Shelby

My name is Shelby Saunders. I am a sophomore at the University of Georgia and am double majoring in genetics and psychology. After graduating, I intend to become a genetic counselor and open my own practice. I spend most of my time juggling responsibilities as a full-time student, working at Bar South, and napping between classes. On the weekends, you can find me inhaling queso at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop or painting banners for Kappa Delta Sorority. Most people see me as the typical dumb blonde, but I am much more than meets the eye.

Easter Sunday 2016, with Richard and Sherry Saunders

My parents have always been incredibly supportive of me, and they will forever be my best friends and role models. They raised me to be independent and confident, but weren’t afraid to teach me some humility in the form of a locked door after curfew or a cell-phone strike. They pushed me to succeed in everything I did from academics, to sports, and beyond. This trait stuck with me, and I continue pushing to succeed by being a member of the honors program at UGA. This drive is what helped me discover my passions and strive for the goals I have today.

In high school, the drive to excel caused me to push myself too far. I played three different sports, was a member of 6 clubs, and began taking college courses at age sixteen. My academic success led me to my love of science, but I hated the idea of spending the rest of my life clinking beakers in a lab. My sports career started off spectacularly, and I was being recruited for volleyball by three in-state colleges by my sophomore year. Unfortunately, it came to a premature end when I broke my back cheerleading. Luckily for me, my coach wanted to keep me involved in the sport and gave me an unforgettable opportunity: I would become the coach for the special needs cheerleading team.

My special needs cheerleaders and I after their first performance

Coaching a special needs team changed my life. I realized my passion for helping people and was amazed by the kids I coached. My cheerleaders are the reason I decided to go into the medical field; I wanted disabled or sick people to have a chance at a normal life playing sports and making friends like they were able to. An extra chromosome here or there didn’t make these kids any less deserving of a normal life.

My friend and his cousin, Layla, who has Batten disease

I once saw a video where a man recorded strangers’ reactions after he called them beautiful. Face after face transformed into a smile. Even though it was just for a short time, he made their lives a little bit better. This is the kind of effect I want to have on people — whether they be my professors, coworkers, peers, or patients — and is why genetic counseling is so important to me. All I want is to spread goodness, and being a genetic counselor will give me the opportunity to have a positive effect on people and change their lives for the better. I still have a long way to go, but who’s going to stop me?

Like what you read? Give Shelby Saunders a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.