Focus on the future: On her own terms

Douglas is heading to Mizzou

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By CYNTHIA-VAL CHAPMAN

When one child's shadow obscures the individuality of a younger sibling, it's time for the parents to decide whether their children would be better off attending different high schools. For Jessica Douglas, the choice to attend Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory High School was a no-brainer, and one from which she's never looked back.

"Jessica wanted to be on her own," explained her mother, Brenda Douglas. "She didn't want to go to the same high school her sister did. She has really come into her own at Christ the King (CTK)."

To meet her, one would never guess that Douglas, 18, could be overshadowed by anyone. Her bright personality, work ethic and penchant for serving others have filled her days with enough activity to make a lesser person faint. Peer Minister. CTK Ambassador. Photography Club. Yearbook. Peer leader. Newspaper. Honor Club. And she works every Wednesday as a participant in the school's Corporate Work Study Program to earn 75 percent of her tuition.

As an employee at Fifth Third Bank's downtown headquarters, Douglas splits her time between the Marketing and Structured Finance departments. On the marketing side, she supports event planning by creating brochures, assembling gift bags, filing and handling paperwork. In structured finance, she does basic filing, document scanning and faxing, and computerized invoicing. The experience has taught her a great deal about handling stress.

"I've learned to stay calm under pressure," she said. Her supervisor works for five people and teaches by example. "She is an inspiration to me - if she can do it, I can do it. If you feel stress, take a breather and go back so you don't mess up."

Douglas' work ethic is reinforced by her mom, who reviews the feedback employers give the students and explains the importance of taking initiative at work, especially when "there's nothing to do."

"I will go over the reviews with Jessica and ask her, 'Do you understand?'" said her mother, former president of the CTK Parent/Guardian Organization. "By asking for something to do, they see she wants to accomplish something, she wants to learn something. You can't just wait for someone to give you something to do."

Her involvement in the school's peer ministry underscores what makes CTK special to Douglas: "It has taught me how to be a man and woman for others through Christ," she says, "serving and giving back to those who don't have as much."

As a peer minister, Douglas gets to engage in one of her favorite pastimes: helping others. "We help any student who needs it. Spiritually, we help them, let them know it's OK to depend on God. I like giving back to everyone at the school." At school-sponsored retreats (a graduation requirement), peer ministers get to share their personal stories and testimonies and "let students know whatever they're going through, they can get through it," she added. Her service hours have routinely exceeded the minimum required by the school to advance from one grade to the next.

Douglas exudes a self-possession that belies her years. Whether conducting a campus tour or discussing her favorite subjects, math and psychology, she is quick with a factoid: "This new building is a big upgrade from the old building; it had no lockers, just book bins and hooks." Or an observation: "I'm taking pre-calc now. I enjoy that class - it challenges me. I like taking challenges and proving that I can get it. It makes me feel good about myself."

Psychology is an unending font of new information. "In psychology, you learn something new every day," she said. "Like today, we were studying sleep - did you know you can actually get shorter with not enough sleep? When I leave this class, I am always telling people about the facts that I learned."

Her self-possession speaks to the intellectual growth her mother has witnessed since Jessica began attending Christ the King. "In grammar school, she had walls that she put up," her mother observed. "When she got to a wall and she didn't understand, she just stood there not knowing how to get over it or go around it. She'd get frustrated. She has come to realize it is OK to ask for help; it's OK to ask a question."

Douglas puts in long hours; most days she's in school until 5:30-6 p.m. In her free time, she tries to catch up on lost sleep, go to the movies, hang out with friends or participate in outings sponsored by the Honor Society and Peer Ministry. If she finds herself with free time at school, she heads to the College Counseling Room.

"I can get all my homework done," she said. "You can get away from everything there; you can focus on getting stuff done. Plus, there are always people there who can help." On days when she's stressed, she heads to the St. Ignatius Loyola Chapel, a gorgeous, light-filled sanctuary enclosed on three sides with glass-block that is a great place "to meditate and talk with God."

Douglas plans to major in marketing at college, hopefully at her first choice, the University of Missouri, with a goal of promoting and planning events for NFL and NBA teams. She's been accepted at four colleges and is awaiting word from Mizzou. Long-term, she envisions having her own home, a good-paying job and reaching her definition of success.

"Success is something that's not given, but earned," she explained. "You have to work hard to be successful and it takes a while to get there. Once you get it, you can hold on to it, if you keep working for it."

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