Bird’s Eye View

Scholarship Essay Contest Winner Offers A Different Perspective Of Coastal Virginia
In the third year of our annual scholarship essay contest, Coastal Virginia’s high school seniors wrote about their ideas of the Coastal Virginia lifestyle—what makes the area difficult to leave, yet easy to return to. Our scholarship winner, Stephen O’Donnell of Western Branch High School in Chesapeake, who will be attending Virginia Tech in the fall for mechanical engineering, provided us with a unique view of Coastal Virginia from the sky. Congratulations, Stephen!

Bird’s Eye View
It’s quiet except for the small engine purring as I focus my energy on the skyline ahead. I’ve been piloting since I was sixteen, but following the coastline today has made my mind drift. The large waves crash below, and I recognize the pier where I first learned to surf in Virginia Beach. My nose fills with the salty scent of the Atlantic Ocean as I remember my first ride. It was an instant attraction—the board and me—and I’ve spent many mornings on the water before school, leaving the beach with just enough time to get a doughnut at ODoodle Doo’s and get to class before the bell rings. Next year I will be a freshman student at Virginia Tech, and while I’m excited for this new adventure, I’ll miss my home.

There are few places like Coastal Virginia, where you can take either a car or a ferry to get where you want to go; but having my pilot’s license has given me a third perspective. From the air I can see the field lit up at Harbor Park when the Tides are playing, one of my favorite pastimes on a summer night. I can see Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding where my dad has worked for over twenty years. I’ve flown past Busch Gardens, finally understanding why my mom, who is afraid of heights, refuses to ride Apollo’s Chariot. On occasion, I have flown to the Eastern Shore, gliding along high above the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel until I spot the campground where my family goes every fall. This aerial view is like a map of my entire life, putting literal meaning to the expression “a trip down memory lane.”

I’ve learned a lot in my eighteen years, but there is one valuable lesson in particular that I hope to never forget. Home is not just a piece of land with a house on it—not here at least. This region is my home, rich with landmarks worthy of personal and national recognition. As I wrap up my basic schooling and prepare for the Mechanical Engineering program at Virginia Tech, I’m making the most out of being home.

Next year when I’m getting to know my classmates, I will tell them I’m from the part of the state where you can visit the sea and the stars in under an hour, with a stop at Virginia’s Living Museum along the way. I’ll tell them I’m an Admirals fan, a proud brother of Christopher Newport University’s alum, and an advocate of Doumar’s famous waffle cones.

I’ve sat in the Civil War prison cell of Jefferson Davis at Fort Monroe, and steered a tiller aboard the Susan Constant. I’m an aerodynamics ambassador by day at Virginia Air & Space Center, and a seafood connoisseur by night. I’m a patriot, having grown up near the home of the shipbuilding industry and a blend of military bases. I’m all these things simply because I’m from Coastal Virginia.

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