Three things help define me easily as a person:
1. I’m confident in myself, but I trust the power of community generated wisdom too.
2. I’m resourceful – I look things up I don’t know about and I constantly browse society for new ideas that I can work with to improve my life.
3. I’m accepting and flexible – I care about each community I have lived in, but I’ve been open to trying new ones too.
I was born in Galax, Virginia in 1973 to Sue K. Rapp and Lane J. Rapp, Sr. – each from Tennessee (Chattanooga and Oak Ridge, respectively). My grandparents mattered a lot to me and their very different political opinions likely make me the respectful moderate you need who is capable of understanding many sides to each issue.
As newlyweds, my parents relocated to the Blue Ridge Mountains after their professional training in Memphis at the University of Tennessee. Prior to choosing to set up a dental practice in Galax, they had served a dental internship at Mount Rogers Public Health near the highest peak in the Virginia’s stretch of the Appalachian chain.
My mom worked as a dental hygienist alongside my dad in a dental practice for at least 15 years.
Growing up in Galax was overall a very wholesome experience. As with many small towns, most of the businesses were downtown, but even those who ran operations in the shopping centers on the outskirts of town seemed to recognize most everyone shopping in their stores.
We also had many active civic clubs and churches.
Y’s Men, Jaycees, Moose Lodge, Lion’s Club, Elks, a Volunteer Fireman’s organization and a group of Shriners who really liked to cut up during parades were some of the more memorable groups I witnessed bringing service and community spirit to our town. They served as sponsors of Little League Baseball, charity events, and drove community service for the needy. We didn’t need thick layers of government supporting our town’s needs. We had the citizens adopting the challenges on their own through these organizations. Service brought as much of a spirit of camaraderie to the members of these groups as probably any of their other activities. The same was true in churches.
The First Methodist and the First Baptist had the largest congregations, but an established Presbyterian Church and several smaller congregations elsewhere around town and in the surrounding counties also developed strongholds of caring citizens under their church steeples. There was no synagogue, cathedral, monastery, or mosque in the immediate area, but a favorite elderly lady who attended my Methodist Church also attended mass about an hour’s drive away once each month. The Episcopalians shared services in a converted house with the Quakers for a stretch of time and families there often joined potlucks and other fellowship at my church – it was only a half-block away. I respected this open door policy and seemed to understand the word ‘ecumenical’ from a young age.
Although my dad struggled with alcoholism for many years, my mother, siblings, and I were able to grow up with the support of close-knit community due in large part to the common bonds developed through churches and civic clubs. It’s probably the sense of friendliness, accountability and community service I experienced from growing up in that small town that inspires me to make all organizations, including governments, feel more accountable, small, and neighborly.
My church was important to me. I participated in choir, youth fellowship and service “mission” trips, and as both a camper and, later, a counselor at Camp Dickenson, (a part of the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church) on the New River (the oldest river in North America) in Fries, Virginia. Fries is pronounced “freeze” because it is named after a German settler who helped industrialize the town with a cotton mill powered by the river.
Although southerners often get early lessons in the benefits of demonstrating a strong sense of humility, I also have had big dreams most of my life. I remember wanting to be like Mark Price, a point guard (and former choir boy) from Oklahoma, who played for a very successful Georgia Tech team. I spent hours learning how to shoot a three-pointer.
However, when I joined the cross-country running team, in its first-year the fall of 1989, for the purpose of getting in excellent shape for my junior year of basketball, I found that the Tide Pride developed during our team’s runs together was more significant than any other sport I’d practiced. We were each frontiersman in a way, jumping on board for the first season our school offered the sport. But I also remember enjoying the variety structured into our daily practice. We’d follow a schedule our coach Tony (who, I think, volunteered all his time at that point) formulated to include a rare mindless, goof-off run mixed in with harder workouts on hills, fartleks, or intervals on the track. I fell in love with the longer runs as we could all cluster at a conversation’s pace. Our school did well from the very first season.
I also got involved in being college-bound and experimenting with other activities so basketball seemed to take a backseat. That result might have had more to do with me staying closer to Spud Webb’s height than Mark Price’s 6′-0″, but, ‘all was good’ because at a school of 300-400 there is generally only a handful of eager beavers in the hall ready to lead all the organizations they can. It wasn’t such a great chore, I think the Young Republicans group only met a few times in the year – once to slam our picture in the yearbook.
Although I did write a vicious article in favor of the death penalty for my 10th grade English class, I only resembled Alex P. Keaton from the contemporaneous Family Ties show in my preppy dress. I felt “Republican” at the time for rather superficial reasons – my dad always yelled at democrats on the TV and conservatives seemed to be the most cost-conscious and upwardly mobile. As my family always sat around Sunday football games doing laundry and clipping coupons, thrifty became a game instinct early for me.
During the 1980′s Reagan’s voice was certainly warm and the jokes on Saturday Night Live at that time didn’t seem to beat him up too much. They typically made fun of the Russians.
At age 14, I remember distinctly that I was shopping for new jeans for school at Harmon’s store when Oliver North’s trial was on the radio. That was my introduction to the possibility for shady behavior in government.
My sister dated a nice guy who’s older brother was a recent graduate of West Point – the United States Military Academy. He gave me the idea to apply for one of the service academies. I admired that his brother had graduated debt free and purchased his own Ford Probe straight away. I chose the Air Force Academy as I thought four years in the Rocky Mountains would be the most welcome of the choices. I didn’t understand what a merchant marine would be. I might choose that path today.
Although my grandmother’s sister worked for NASA in Florida and I had posters of the shuttle and planets, my idea that I’d look good drifting in space as an astronaut was not single-minded. I liked the criteria for selection – one needed to be well-rounded with wits, physical fitness, and a dedication to community service.
I was admitted and the trip to visit Colorado Springs was my family’s first in an airplane. My mom and dad eased the strain in their relationship for the sake of my campus visit. My dad was very in favor of me taking the 600k dollars worth of free education.
Instead, I would attend the University of Virginia.
At UVA, I was invited into the Echols Scholar program. The main benefits were freedom in curriculum choice and a first-year common living experience. These bright kids polled each other about their respective SAT scores from day one, but overall they were not forever obnoxious. It was a great pleasure and advantage to live among them. I had one of the lowest known SAT scores in the building and felt like a bit of hick when the first girl I took to a dance class remarked “When I heard you talk I didn’t think you went to this school much less lived in this dorm,” but I truly appreciate every minute of college except that one.
It was such a good experience I remember I wanted to be a Resident Advisor simply so I could keep living in the honors program dorm. I did exactly that for two more years before I somehow lucked my way through a winning application for the traditional fourth-year honor of living with other student leaders on the Lawn at the center of Thomas Jefferson’s University design.
Because I was one of only a few pre-medical students on the Lawn I was also awarded an endowed room that was a memorial to a former Medical School Dean’s adolescent son who had passed away in a car accident. The boy was on his way to go fishing with one of the medical students. John Kenneth Crispell was noted for his sense of community and spirit of frivolity while living among the students. I continue to try to resemble those traits no matter the seriousness of my path in the world.
The line of student ‘Lawn’ rooms were interspersed with larger Pavilions where faculty or administration had the opportunity to live. A good community for us all.
There’s lots more to say about my time at the University of Virginia. It was truly the formative experience I needed to become a well-rounded and lifelong learner. But I don’t think for a minute that all students need four years of college to succeed, especially today with the internet making access to learning and the credentialing of skill, knowledge, and community service easier for everyone. Especially today with the costs of higher educate skyrocketing resulting from a warping of college experience choices due to federally guaranteed and easily accessible loans. Especially in a society now structured around bringing great, early debt to young people while still promising them access to success with mere sheepskin diplomas when that is clearly, no longer reliable. Especially, when there are much better ways to give our most innovative students a more substantial early stake in society while letting them adopt the early habit of earning money.
If I get a chance I’ll go into more detail in a separate essay about what classes I liked, what activities I chose, what I did on vacations, which girls I fancied. But, I doubt it, I think I can’t stand anymore of this writing about myself.
See a bullet list of the jobs I’ve had since college on my Google+ page. Feel free to talk with anyone I worked with for more details if you like. In summary, I’ve been more hardworking, nice, and savvy than lazy, arrogant, and sneaky.
If you want to track down what I’ve done in the last few years with every finer grain head on over to I read through Facebook and Twitter. I’ve been working to promote myself as a one-of-a-kind storyteller through very active and public profiles. That fits right in with how I hope our future political leaders will operate through their campaigns and their service in the future.