The first time I heard about Lindsay Lee, I was slacking off — checking my email in my high school statistics class.
I was a month or so removed from my interview with Steven Dandaneau, the then-director of the Chancellor's Honors Program and Haslam Scholars Program, and he had sent me an email congratulating me on being named a semifinalist in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology, a prestigious national science competition for high schoolers.
I hadn't entered the Siemens Competition.
Puzzled, I looked up the list of semifinalists from the state of Tennessee and found the probable point of confusion — some random girl in Oak Ridge, Lindsay Lee, was listed. We shared the same last name. I replied to Dr. Dandaneau with an email that said something along the lines of, "Thank you, but I think you have me confused with this other girl," and figured I would never have to think about this mysterious other Lee again.
I am so glad I did.
When I saw her name on the list of fellow Haslam Scholar Finalists, I immediately resigned myself to failure. She was a Siemen's Competition semifinalist, after all. I couldn't compete with that.
At our Finalist Interview Weekend book discussion, she sat at the head of the table and talked about the complex social justice issues presented within the book, "The Glass Castle," while I mispronounced 'Montaigne.' I was intimidated, but I soon found that in addition to being brilliant, Lindsay was also incredibly open, friendly and nice in a way that automatically put the people around her at ease.
When she rejected her offer from Harvard in favor of the University of Tennessee, I was ecstatic. I would have, at the very least, one friend at college with me. Even then, I had no idea what kind of friend she would be.
You see, in addition to writing weekly columns for The Daily Beacon for two years, serving on the Issues Committee, founding and acting as president of the Campus Disability Advocates, running for Student Services Director and then president of SGA, serving as co-chair of the Academic Affairs Committee of SGA, tutoring for the UT Math Center, directing the Running With Hope 5K, working with Redeeming Hope Ministries, presiding over the Dean's Student Advisory Council, and modeling the population dynamics of Knox County feral cat colonies with the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis — all while maintaining a near-perfect GPA — Lindsay is the best kind of person.
She is hilarious and thoughtful and kind. She is among the busiest people I know, but she has never been too busy to talk to a friend. We have laughed, we have cried, we have tried to convince other people that we are twins (I wish), we have made marriage pacts, and we have spent a whole lot of time looking at cats.
She is the kind of person you can trust to give an honest, well-thought-out opinion about both the issues raised in that article you just read and also that boy you've been seeing. She is open-minded, loving and a true friend for life.
More importantly, Lindsay is an unwavering advocate — for the disabled, for the marginalized, for everyone she loves. Like most of us, she is frustrated by the injustice in the world. Like very few of us, she has the guts to do everything she can to fix it. When I have been afraid to speak, she has spoken. When I have shied away, she has been bold. She is, in every way, my role model.
Now she's a Rhodes Scholar, too.
The best thing about Lindsay's victory is that it doesn't change anything about her; she is no better or worse a person after winning this scholarship than she was before, because she was already an amazing scholar, activist, mountain-mover and friend. Anyone that knows her knows that. What winning the Rhodes means is that now everyone else will know that as well. There are those that may have automatically dismissed her before; this makes it that much harder for them to do.
As freshmen, Lindsay and I were in a class that tasked us with changing the world. We looked at Rhodes Scholar profiles and deemed them superhuman. With Lindsay winning this award, they continue to be.
Melissa Lee is a senior in College Scholars. She can be reached at email@example.com.