James McKee

Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

At the age of 4 I was carving out streets in the dirt for my hot wheels and building homes and villages with legos. At the age of 6, I discovered the phone book and became obsessed with the map insets and learned the name/location of every street in my hometown. A few years later I became obsessed with The Weather Channel for the radar maps and the tourism commercials. I was probably 8 years old, calling the tourism departments of every state in America to request materials and brochures. I learned the maps, read the materials and understood the cities that made each state. I sat in class and drew floor plans of homes and doodled subdivisions and towns. I was the Geography Bee winner for our school district in 6th grade. In 7th grade, I took some construction courses and was able to build a model house as well as scaled-down corner of a real home, including every aspect from frame to window installation, electrical work, roofing and everything in between. I went on to major in Geography in college and was fortunate enough to work as a city planner for a local community. Today, I continue to work with maps and charts.

My teacher pulled me aside in sixth grade and told me I have everything going against me...I grew up in a poor town from a divorced family, me being the oldest of 5 boys with no one in my family having ever gone to college but she knew I was going to escape that cycle. I'll never forget those words or the countless people that have helped me on my journey and I will be forever grateful to them. They know who they are because I often express my gratitude, long after I've accomplished my goals just so they know I've not forgotten their help and support.

Most people my age have a very different story...many are working jobs, for better or worse, that they never would have dreamed they'd be working. Sometimes life takes us down a path we cannot foresee. I worked two jobs simultaneously during high school; on the weekends was 8-2 at one job then 3-11 at the next job. I worked til 11pm on school nights too. I worked full time during most of college. Not everything has worked out the way I had hoped or planned and life is never easy for a dork like myself, but looking back I still get chills thinking how I can trace my journey literally nearly all the way back to the very beginning and know I am doing exactly what I was meant to do in life.