He couldn’t eat a peanut butter sandwich. He couldn’t even sit with the other kids at camp for fear of cross-contamination. So I, the youngest counselor at a summer drama program at the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts, sat with him eating my own lunch. And we talked.

He showed me that kids are not kids, just people who haven’t finished growing up yet. Rather than see himself as somehow flawed, he strove to learn more, and he loved to talk about it. And somehow, it became a friendship, rather than a counselor standing by with an EpiPen and sympathy for an outsider.

He also taught me about quantum physics, how light travels in packets called quanta or photons. I nodded and listened, an artsy kid who never thought she’d continue doing science beyond the bare minimum requirements. But I respected this person who had a great deal more knowledge than I did, despite being just over half my age. I still thought I’d major in theater when I got to college.

Ten years later, I am about to get my PhD in physics, and the first lesson I ever had in quantum physics came from a 10-year-old boy who couldn’t sit with the other kids at lunch.

Jenn Johnson,


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