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Vanessa Ley

Coming Home

By Barry Engelhardt

"I came back because this is my hometown."

Meridian sophomore Vanessa Ley has experienced a life of transitions. While she was born in the area and started prekindergarten in Meridian, she moved to Jackson, Missouri in second grade, only to return in fifth grade. Her years in Jackson gave her perspective and revealed that there’s nowhere else Vanessa would rather be than Meridian. After all, she considers Meridian home.

“I’m from here. I came back because this is my hometown,” says Vanessa. “From pre-K to now, I’ve loved it. It’s amazing. The teachers are nice. The staff members are incredible. They try to understand you in every way.”

As we talk, she shares story after story, all focused on individuals, often Meridian teachers, who have made a lasting and positive impact on her. Two of her current favorites are her math teacher, Miss Justice, and her special education teacher, Mrs. Scott. She beams as she explains, “They’re the best because they proactively try to fully understand who I am and where I’m coming from.” They meet her where she is so that they can teach her what she needs to learn.

She quickly adds Mrs. Barton to the list of exceptional teachers. “I don’t have her as a teacher this year, which makes me sad. I miss her,” says Vanessa. From Miss Justice to Mrs. Scott to Mrs. Barton, she proudly exclaims that countless special people exist in her world. Teachers who don’t just teach her what she needs to learn but impact her life so profoundly that she misses them once she’s no longer in their classrooms.

Another one of those special people is Vanessa’s best friend. She admits they didn’t always see eye to eye but worked through their differences and became inseparable. They’ve been best friends ever since Vanessa moved back into town. Vanessa says that while she’s acted as the volleyball squad’s manager for the past two seasons, she plans to try out for the team next season, primarily based on her best friend’s support and encouragement. Always willing to give back, she adds that while she isn’t sure whether she’ll play junior varsity or varsity, she can always manage the other squad on the side.

When not at school, Vanessa loves to be outdoors, especially hiking. She also works at McDonald’s, logging twenty-five or so hours per week over four to five days. She’s typically found in one of their two windows, taking orders and money or filling drinks and passing out orders. She laughs and admits that while they aren’t typically rude, most customers have high expectations, wanting their food accurately and as quickly as possible.

Vanessa is also learning to crochet, and while she’s ultimately saving for a new car, she also wants to purchase a Cricut machine. She enjoys the process of creating and hopes to one day start her own business, potentially making her own “shirts and things of that nature.”

Ambitious by nature, she hopes to use the profits from her first business to invest in others with the goal of taking her business around the world. When I envision Vanessa’s world travels, I envision her looking back on Meridian and the countless teachers who got to know her, not simply as a student, but as a person. I envision her looking back on her time at Meridian and seeing home.

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