Five Minutes With... Helen Drotor

January 24, 2014 

Helen Drotor, a high school senior caught in the crossfire of a shooting two years ago, said she turned “lemons into lemonade.”

Q: You are just a few months away from graduating high school and you are preparing for your next big step in life – college. What is going through the minds of your classmates, and you, at this time?

A: I feel like people are ready to wind down their high school career and they are ready to go to college but at the same time, it is a scary thought. I have been going to East Wake Academy since kindergarten and now I am making plans to go to North Carolina State – that is a big change. It is like you plan the last four years for this moment and then all of a sudden, it happens – it is surreal.

Q: What are your career aspirations?

A: I want to be an environmental lawyer, with a minor in environmental science and public policy.

Q: What is an environmental lawyer?

A: You just basically help with the legislative protection of the environment from degradation and decline. My passions have always been in science and math but I sometimes struggle in those classes. I do well in English classes so I think this will be a good opportunity to combine the two together.

Q: You really wanted more of a career in a laboratory, correct?

A: Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a nuclear physicist. I toured the nuclear facility at N.C. State not long ago and I saw how the people who worked there had to wear meter-reading pins that recorded their radiation level. If the radiation level got too high, they would have to leave for a while. That was kind of eye opening. I decided to back away from pursuing that field.

Q: Aren’t you a big fan of Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory”? Isn’t he a nuclear physicist?

A: He is a theoretical physicist – it is different.

Q: A little over two years ago, you and your dad were in the Wendell Food Lion when a man came in and began shooting. You said that the two of you hid in a storage closet until it was safe to come out. What kind of impact did that have on you?

A: Well, I suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome. I had to go through some counseling. It was basketball season at the time and I was playing and it was hard to get through the games. It was loud and with the buzzers going off and people screaming, it was hard to deal with. I was also involved with student council at the time and I would have to speak in front of groups and that became difficult. I had a hard time articulating my words so I was always having to think about what I was saying and that was a struggle. I think I became a better speaker because of it. It was an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade.

Q: Have you been back to the Food Lion since then?

A: I really didn’t want to go back there but my therapist told me I should go back and see that everything was OK. Since then, I have gone back in there a lot but I think about the shooting every time I go back.

Q: If you had to choose the one thing that most irritates you about teens, what would it be?

A: No one wants to volunteer. Seems like everyone my age is so self-absorbed in their computer, phone and other electronic devices that they don’t see the people around them. There are a lot of good volunteer opportunities out there – you just have to show the initiative.”

Q: What do you think might be the biggest obstacles in pursuing your goals?

A: Well, it is not really an obstacle, it is really just something that is ironic and that is I am pretty much allergic to the environment – sand, grass, pollen, animals, trees. And here I am pursuing a career where I will be dealing with the environment. I used to take allergy shots so I could go outside but then I had an analeptic seizure because I became allergic to the medicine. So I can’t take the shots anymore but I have an EpiPen and my inhaler. I just like to go outside and face the consequences later (laughing). I just see nature as majestic. I think most people really don’t notice their environment and they take it for granted. I would like to think I am always aware of the nature around me.

Correspondent Dena Coward

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