Despite struggles with severe anxiety throughout his life, Cory Satter didn’t flinch when he entered the West Bank, Jerusalem and other turbulent areas to talk to locals and photograph the effects of the conflict there.
In fact, the trip was his idea.
“Some things make me anxious, but that didn’t,” the 17-year-old said with a shrug.
Satter and his dad made a dream come true by visiting Jerusalem and the West Bank during his spring break this year. Neither has ties to the Middle East, and the two weren’t part of any formal tour group.
Instead, the pair wandered the area by day, striking up conversations with locals, and Satter brought his camera to capture the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The trip was part of his senior exit project at the Performance Learning Center, a high school that has a nontraditional style of teaching for students who don’t thrive in traditional high school settings, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools website.
“I think a lot of kids are going to Panama City (Fla.) and other beaches for spring break, and here he is going to the Middle East,” said Performance Learning Center teacher Jim McCormack, who taught Satter law and U.S. history. “Surprisingly, I think he likes to live life on the edge a little.”
Now: Scholarship ahead
Satter, who speaks confidently underneath a mop of bright red hair, will graduate as his class’s valedictorian. He’ll be attending Arizona State University this fall, where he received a four-year scholarship for the school’s international relations program.
But school hasn’t always been a cakewalk for him.
“It’s been a long road,” said Laurie Satter, Cory’s mother. “He was a difficult kid, and he had a really hard time in school.”
Satter said that Cory has a mild learning disability, which makes it difficult for him to process subjects that don’t come naturally to him, like math.
“But in areas he’s strong in, he has such a grasp that he’s on a genius level at it,” she said.
Indeed, McCormack said Satter was an extremely bright student who, because of his ability, seemed like a second teacher in the classroom.
Before his days at the Performance Learning Center, however, the combination of his processing disorder and anxiety caused Satter to drop out of school in the fifth grade, Satter said.
Then: Controlled by fear
At one point, a tutor came to the Satters’ home because Cory was agoraphobic, which meant he feared large crowds and enclosed public places.
“That was so frustrating because we knew we had this really brilliant, cool kid,” Laurie Satter said. “But other people wouldn’t see that because he wouldn’t share himself with them.”
Despite not always meshing with the world around him, Satter has been fascinated with the Middle East from a young age.
“Ever since 9/11, I’ve been interested in that region,” he said.
His dad even recalls a time in middle school when he discovered a filing cabinet in Satter’s room full of school papers about the Middle East and ancient empires.
In his sojourn this spring, Satter took about 800 photographs that illustrated the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He later narrowed them down to 30 for his final presentation.
Some of the images he captured included the largest refugee camp on the West Bank, United Nations’ checkpoints, Jewish settlements and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s grave.
Satter interviewed a range of people – from taxi drivers to shopkeepers to passersby – about how the conflict has affected them, and what solution they’d like to see. Satter heard a range of responses, from having one nation-state with Jerusalem under international control to establishing two separate states.
Satter hopes to someday be an ambassador overseas, and he dreams of becoming the secretary of state or U.N. secretary-general to find a solution for the conflict.
More than anything, his mother is proud of how far he’s come.
“To us, he was always the valedictorian, but now everybody else gets to see what we saw,” she said.