Seventeen-year-old Grace Jackson is like most high school students. She enjoys watching Netflix, reading fantasy novels, drinking coffee and spending time with friends.

She also dreams of being a Supreme Court justice, and she thinks setting up mitigation strategies would be “so fun.”

On Dec. 15, it was announced that Jackson would receive a full scholarship to any Indiana college as the county’s 2018 Lilly Endowment Community Scholar.

Her love for the U.S. Constitution and laws that govern the land began in eighth grade, when she was a member of the last local We the People team to win the national competition in Washington, D.C.

“We the People made me want to do what I want to do in the future, which is public policy,” she said.

“I really developed a passion for the Constitution and the laws that America has set in place. I am really interested to learn more about foreign policy, too, and how the American government can learn from that.”

Throughout the past eight years, Brown County Junior High School has won six We the People state championships, two national runner-up titles and two national championships.

The program teaches students about civic competence and responsibilities.

Grace’s parents, Carrie and Tom Jackson, also saw the impact that We the People had on their daughter.

“That class really has given her a laser focus on what she wants to do on public policy,” Tom said.

“It brought out something in her I think that she didn’t even realize that she had in herself. Just the way that, I think, the bar and the standards were set so high for that program, I think it was awesome, because a lot of times, the standards and the bars are not set very high for kids,” Carrie said.

“I think that really played to her strengths, and it really appealed to her and the other kids who are in We the People because they just were really able to stretch and reach for excellence in that whole program.”

The other three finalists for this year’s Lilly scholarship also were graduates of the We the People program.

Tom said he and Carrie were excited to learn their daughter was picked for the scholarship. “I think we thought she might have a good chance, because she’s so involved and she studies so hard. It was so amazing because of the great kids she was competing against. We were very excited when we learned she won it,” he said.

Grace said there were hugs all around — and some screams of joy from her mom — as she celebrated the news with her parents and older siblings. The family had been waiting in the living room for that phone call.

The scholarship will help the family financially, too, since they paid for their two older siblings, Will and Lizzie, to attend college last year, and for Carrie to earn her teaching license in special education.

Tom said his daughter cares about people and making a difference. She marched in the Women’s March in Indianapolis this past summer. He said her sensitivity to social issues will play into her role in public policy and the government.

“She can go into that field and really make an impact for people,” he said.

Last summer, Grace was the only high school student to intern at the Sagamore Institute, a nonpartisan public policy think tank in Indianapolis.

“I see that things are wrong in our political system. I see that there’s a huge polarization between the Democrats and the Republicans, or whoever it might be. It could be any type of interest group. I think I would be great operating in the middle, that center area,” Grace said.

She said she has liberal views when it comes to social issues, but since she raised in a conservative household, she is able to understand both viewpoints.

“I agree with aspects of both sides, and I think that seeing that there’s such a polarization made me want to bridge the gap a little bit,” she said.

Grace has not decided which Indiana college she will attend with the scholarship. She has been accepted to Butler University and recently applied to the University of Notre Dame.

She also plans to attend law school.

She wants to study public policy with a focus on environmental policy. She said she was inspired to study environmental policies after she took an AP Biology course in high school with Matt Williams. She wants to work for a nonprofit. “I think it’s really important, especially with everything, like climate change, going on in the world right now,” she said.

Her parents said Grace had “natural curiosity about learning” at a young age. She prides herself on being in the top five of her high school class.

“I’ve always strived to get all As or all As and Bs. I really strive for knowledge, not just the grade,” Grace said.

“She was an early reader. She was an early studier. She was just naturally inquisitive about basically everything,” Carrie said. “We had a feeling she was going to be successful in school and just kind of be naturally inquisitive throughout her life.”

Grace is a member of the Brain Games team and plans to compete on the social studies, science and English academic teams. She also is a member of the Science Honor Society and is president of National Honor Society.

A requirement for National Honor Society is to volunteer 40 hours per year. Grace said she has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, God’s Grace’s back to school event, the Brown County YMCA Hilly Half and the Brown County Humane Society Chocolate Walk.

“It’s not for the hour requirement, it’s for bettering the community,” she said.

She also was the lighting chief for two years in the high school’s theater department and played a role in the musical “Hello, Dolly.” She plans to help with the spring musical, too.

She used to play volleyball but now prefers a game of ultimate Frisbee with her student ministry Young Life.

Her advice to freshmen is to be yourself and have fun.

“Do the things that make you happy,” she said. “Be an individual.

“That’s what I did definitely in high school,” she said. “I found who I was and what I wanted my identity to be.”

Author photo
Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.