Turning challenges into triumphs

By Eric Valentine

WRHS senior Henry Whittier. Photo credit: Britta Heaphy

For most people, a diagnosis of any kind would be seen as something that may limit one’s quality of life. For Henry Whittier, he has turned it into a unique advantage.

When Whittier was 4 years old, he was diagnosed with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. He said he struggled socially and academically for a time. But, eventually, he made a conscious decision to look at things differently.

“I decided that I wouldn’t let my disability define the person I could be,” Whittier said. “Not only did I learn to play to my strengths, but I also learned how to communicate to others about my weaknesses so they could help me work through them. I am grateful to have such supportive teachers and peers who have supported me through the experience.”

By the time Whittier entered Wood River High School, he was seeking and finding outlets for his unique perspective on things. Namely, his involvement in Model United Nations helped him find his voice and his passion: global politics. In fact, as Whittier begins to plan life after high school, he is setting his hopes on studying global relations and international business.

“I’m hoping to either work in the foreign service or to start my own entrepreneurial venture,” Whittier said. “I wish everyone could have the opportunity to grow and achieve what they want in life. It is difficult to see when people’s ambitions are restricted by factors that they can’t control. In a perfect world, if someone is willing to work hard for what they want, they should be able to make something of their efforts. I’m hoping that at some point in my life I can help eliminate the systematic barriers that cause this.”

Whittier’s rigorous course load—A.P. United States Government, A.P. Statistics, A.P. Literature and Composition, A.P. World History, and French—figure to help prepare the lifelong Valley resident for the next stage of life and pursuing those lofty goals.

“My favorite thing about living in the Valley is the fact that it is a seasonal community,” Whittier said. “Not only do we have variety between the four seasons, but the activities and opportunities change throughout the year.”

Whittier describes himself as a non-traditional athlete. He has, over the last 13 years, practiced an ancient Korean martial art called Soo Bahk Do with Sawtooth Martial Arts. In school, he has been most heavily involved in Model United Nations and does community service through National Honor Society with organizations such as Mountain Humane.

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