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@School: Jeanna Perry

Nov. 2, 2008 — The phrase "giving back to your community" hasn't been lost on 17-year-old Jeanna Perry, an All Saints Cathedral School senior who has spent the last two summers in Costa Rica teaching English to children, painting schools and planting soccer fields.
Perry didn't make the trips because she had to. Instead, her love of helping people and immersing herself in different cultures are the driving forces behind everything she does, and propelled her to surf the Internet two years ago for community-service programs. Her admiration for the Spanish culture pushed her toward Costa Rica, where she lived with a local family for two weeks and worked with other high school students to make a difference in some of the country's rural areas.
Perry is the kind of person who also draws inspiration from her life experiences, and picks up longterm friends wherever she goes. During her second summer in Costa Rica, she had the opportunity to go kayaking with a local philosophy and theology professor who she describes as the "most kind-hearted man I've ever met."
"We kayaked with him for 33 miles, in a thunderstorm," she says, her eyes lighting up with the memory. "The trip was a bit rocky, but it was worth it — he was so smart, and he told me afterward that anytime I go back to Costa Rica, I could stay with his family, because I was like his daughter."
Born on St. Thomas, Perry also focuses her efforts on local organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and the Family Resource Center, along with serving as president of her school's Interact club.
"My goal is to get the club into a more constant routine, because in the last six to eight years we haven't really done anything," she says. "The first thing we did this year was a drive for Haiti, and that turned out really well. I want to get the students thinking that Interact isn't just something that you put on a college application; it's something that you really participate in and give your heart to."
Perry's heart is a big one — overflowing with love and affection for her family, friends, school and community. She is soft spoken, but talks about things seriously and tries not to make promises she can't keep. She has big dreams, and punctuates her sentences with sweeping hand gestures and bright smiles. She is reserved on some issues, but is still honest, interjecting little sentences throughout the interview that give a bit more insight into her life, such as: "I always like to drink cranberry juice in the morning," or, "I have the same sense of humor as my dad," or, "my mom is the strongest woman in the entire world."
"My sister Amanda," she adds, "is one of those kids with the brightest kind of future, and I love my brother Luke."
It's hard not to smile along with her.
Perry balances her community-service efforts with an after-school job and a rigorous course load — taking advanced-placement English and history, along with human physiology, college algebra and philosophy. Her self-proclaimed obsession with soccer also keeps her busy during the year, as she plays for both her school's varsity soccer team and the V.I. National Women's Team. She is a member of Graffiti Street, a local teen talk show.
Perry, who is also an honors student, credits her school environment and her teachers for her ability to get through the day in one piece.
"I love All Saints," she says. "Our class, for example is really special. There's 36 of us and we all get along and love each other. It's a great environment to be in, and really brings down the stress level. It's easy for anyone to do okay, but it's hard to do great, and I think the low stress level at our school is good for students — it makes you more aware of what you're doing."
Like many other students her age, Perry is currently going through the college-application process, and is thinking about pursuing a career in communications, international relations or journalism.
"I like the travel involved in those fields, and I like to write," she says. "I think I'm going to write a book someday. Writing's something that's always been easy for me, and it's something that I'm really passionate about. I'm passionate about people, too, so for me it's either something like being a public-relations officer for Oxfam (International) or being the reporter out on the street getting the scoop."
Perry's top choices for college are Brandeis University, Clark University, American University and Boston University.
"I was ready to go to college in ninth grade," she jokes. "But after college, I'm totally not going to have a permanent residence — I'm going to travel the world. There are so many places I want to go to."
Where does Perry see herself in five years?
"In Spain," she says, without hesitation. "Living in a rented room in a huge house with other boarders, just experiencing life."
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