The earliest conscious influences I can remember, looking back on my childhood, are my mother and father. My parents instilled in me a sense of tolerance towards others and the belief that everyone is equal regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, etc. What was confusing and shocking to me in my youth was how the values of my peers and of other members in my community seemed to contradict what my parents had taught me to be fundamental. Living in the heart of the Bible belt in Alabama, the conservative atmosphere cultivated a very homogenous population. With my elementary school and middle school being almost 80% Caucasian and my only friends being the people I knew from my Sunday school classes, I was immersed in a culture of Judeo-Christian values and Republican ideology.
Following my fourteenth birthday, I enrolled in a full-time tennis academy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where I lived in a dorm by myself and spent six to seven hours a day on the tennis court.
I was placed in an online school program with no deadlines, strict lesson plans, or access to teachers in person. Tennis was clearly the top priority with education being second. I only had to spend about two to three hours a week on schoolwork to maintain my straight A's and finish with a GPA above 4.0. This lax, informal type of schooling allowed me ample time to explore what I was truly passionate about - physics and computers. This, I believe, was the most transformational "key learning" experience for me. The reward for learning became learning itself, instead of a high grade on a test or an A on a report card. The long hours I spent in my dorm room filling notebooks with elementary...