Those are some of the words people attach to Andrew O’Donnell.
The recent graduate of Westside High School has received an award for leadership and advocacy for LGBT young people. The Youth Courage Award is from the Colin Higgins Foundation, a national nonprofit that focuses on helping LGBT youth.
O’Donnell is one of three winners of the award nationally and will receive a $10,000 grant and an all-expense-paid trip to Los Angeles to receive the award. Higgins was the screenwriter of the classic film “Harold and Maude” and writer and director of such films as “9 to 5.”
“Andrew has overcome enormous obstacles, while demonstrating personal courage, leadership and maturity,” James Rogers, board president of the Colin Higgins Foundation, said in a written statement. “By reaching out to others outside of the LGBTQ community and by building bridges between diverse groups, Andrew has proven to be a rare combination of strength, modesty, vision and determination.”
O’Donnell’s advocacy work has included forming a support group for LGBT youth and serving as events coordinator for the Queer Nebraska Youth Network.
O’Donnell said it was a big step coming out to family in eighth grade. O’Donnell faced harassment and other struggles and believes young people gain strength by sharing their experiences with peers.
O’Donnell also has worked as an editor of the blog for the High School Democrats of America and assigned writers to address such topics as how politics affects transgender individuals.
Eric Sayre, an English teacher at Westside High, said O’Donnell also has shown courage by sharing personal struggles through writing and poetry. O’Donnell self-published a collection of poems that explore those struggles and is seeking a publisher for another collection.
O’Donnell will attend the University of Iowa in the fall and will triple major in English with a concentration in creative writing, philosophy and gender, women’s and sexuality studies.
O’Donnell plans to use part of the $10,000 grant that comes with the Youth Courage Award for tuition and part to establish a college scholarship fund for LGBT youth in the Midwest.
O’Donnell wants to make writing a career.
Sayre said he has no doubt that O’Donnell will use writing to help others.
“(O’Donnell) had such deeply personal stories to tell,’’ Sayre said. “Andrew’s courage inspires those around him.”