Seated at the head table in the Kauffman Foundation’s conference center, 17-year-old Hope Corwin finally understood her Christmas gift.
There she was, one of 209 high school girls at the Hope Summit, listening to superstar scientists, mathematicians, engineers and entrepreneurs.
All the speakers were women. Women who overcame shyness because of an inner spark of curiosity. Women who, again and again, laughed into the microphones describing their younger selves as nerds. Women now in the forefront of technological inventions, making the world better.
And all of them gathered Thursday for one reason: because of Hope.
But the petite girl with the expressive eyes, her hair growing back in after cancer treatments, shrugged off any kudos.
“They were here because … because Chief Elf had a really good idea to combine my love of math and science to help other people,” she said. “I think it’s really, really cool.”
(More about elves in a moment.)
Hope, diagnosed with cancer two years ago, is a junior at Park Hill High School. Despite missing 72 days of school last year, she still managed to keep up her grades.
Yes, “cancer sucks,” she said, but with it comes insight. She learned quickly that an awful diagnosis also brings out people who care. Cancer makes life more precious.
Hope was featured in a locally produced documentary called “Just Like You” about kids with cancer. Her family has had a trip to Disney World thanks to the Dream Factory. Displayed in Hope’s bedroom is a pink Chiefs jersey signed by quarterback Matt Cassel.
But invisible gifts like dreams and hopes can’t be wrapped under a Christmas tree. So when word came to the Corwins that Chief Elf of the Elves of Christmas Present would call, Hope politely told him she didn’t want anything more. She was happy. She was OK. Other children should be helped before her.
But Chief Elf called anyway.
For 22 years, the Elves of Christmas Present have sifted through heartache in the metropolitan area, trying to make Christmas extra special for a few families who have had a tough year. Last Christmas the anonymous elves created a white Christmas of manmade snow to surprise a little boy on Christmas morning.
Chief Elf doesn’t take no for an answer.
Hope’s parents were the ones to finally tell him. Hope loves math. And science. Having cancer means learning really fast about medical technologies.
On Christmas Eve, when an elf handed Hope an envelope telling her about her present coming in March, “I didn’t really understand ,” she said.
She understood Thursday.
The Kauffman Foundation called scientists, engineers, mathematicians. Speakers came from the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, Garmin International, Bayer Healthcare and Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences.
The gift of this summit was more than a way to help one girl touch her dreams. It was a way to help other girls believe in themselves.
The speakers’ words were timeless: What’s the next thing I can learn? …Have a sense of adventure…Get outside your comfort zone…Support other women.
Words of hope.
Words for Hope.
LEE HILL KAVANAUGH, The Kansas City Star