My name is NOT Bob...
... and it's not Barry or Bill (He's my illustrator!) or Jon or Jim. My name is NOT Sally or Sue or Sam, either. And I could sit here all day telling you all the names I'm not. But that would be foolish, wouldn't it? And yet we let children define themselves by what they're not every single day. That stops now.
Let's try this again. My name is JJ Vulopas, and I am a rising junior at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. I live with severe food allergies. I wrote Land of Not to help food-allergic students and their peers learn to accept one another, celebrate their differences, and identify themselves by who they are, not by who they're not.
This issue is important to me. When I started elementary school, I defined myself by my limitations. "I'm J.J., and I can't drink milk or eat tree nuts," I would often say when I met people. My desire for safety was sincere, of course. But over time, I began to isolate myself from those around me. So with the help of my parents and some caring teachers, I changed my thinking, began a conscious effort to embrace everything I could do, and started living with my allergy, not just managing it. Finding a healthy balance between safety and normalcy transformed me from a cautious, doubt-ridden boy to a motivated young man ready to change — and challenge — the world. I started elementary school afraid to make friends and finished senior year as class president. I learned to live in the Land of Can! And now I humbly challenge you to help the people in your worlds live there too!