The life of the teenager is one filled with late nights with friends, scouting the hippest places to chill and creating the most innovative way to ask someone to prom. However, these activities — no matter how harmless and fun — are not how everyone decides to spend those golden years of youth.
For Keven Stonewall, being a teenager meant embarking on a scientific journey of questions and discoveries. It meant taking risks and not being afraid to stand out from his peers. And it meant working to find a cure for colon cancer at the tender age of 17.
Now a 22-year-old senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Stonewall hopes to inspire others to go after their passions, just as he has magnificently done.
As a child growing up in the South Side of Chicago, Stonewall always had a deep interest in science.
“I love science,” Stonewall told BET News. “I’ve been motivated by science since fifth grade.”
After learning about the microscope in elementary school, Stonewall knew it would forever have a prominent place in his life. He then asked his parents for a microscope for Christmas and asked his teacher about the types of careers that require the use of a microscope.
Flash forward to Stonewall’s high school years. During this time, a close friend’s relative passed away from cancer and he realized the severity of the disease.
“When my friend’s uncle passed from cancer in high school, I saw the impact that [cancer] had emotionally, economically, physically and mentally,” Stonewall said. “I knew I wanted to be involved in cancer research.”
Stonewall then spent all of his free time finding a cancer research facility that would take a teenage intern. As a senior in high school, he was taken in by a Rush University lab, where he began conducting research for colon cancer.
Under the guidance of Professor Carl Ruby, Stonewall worked on mice subjects to develop a possible colon cancer vaccine for the elderly. Now Stonewall — along with the help of his newest mentor Dr. Christian Capitini — continues his research at the UW Madison Medical Research Center.
And even though he is tirelessly working in the lab and following the necessary steps to go to medical school, Stonewall still finds the time to try and motivate others with his own story.
“I do what I do because I’m passionate about it” he told us. “We put ourselves in this box, and if we can step outside the box and do something we want to do, that’s what makes us truly happy.”
Stonewall hopes that in sharing his story, he can reach the children of his own hometown of Chicago and other inner cities to pursue their dreams, no matter what other people think.
“I want the city [of Chicago] to realize there’s hope for us. There’s a lot of good things going on and we don’t hear that. Nobody has stepped up to embrace that. All it takes is someone to put light upon that story,” Stonewall said.
With the extreme rhetoric coming from people like Donald Trump, it is easy for people to generalize the inner city of Chicago as being something less than attractive. Yet Stonewall believes that once everyone in an inner city believes in themselves, then others will believe in them too.
“I want to thank Chicago for their extreme support on my journey so far,” Stonewall said about how others have reacted to his success. “Being from Chicago is something I am truly proud of.”
As a child, Stonewall was teased and mocked for wanting to explore a future in the world of science, and now he is inspiring others to follow on their own unique journey.
“I want people to remember that passion is love and love is passion. Look at the way you treat love and tie that to your passion and you can’t fail,” Stonewall proudly advised.
In the next few months, Stonewall will take his MCATs and apply for medical school. He has no idea what the coming years will look like for him, but based on what he has already accomplished, we are expecting his future to be tremendous.
(Photo: Keven Stonewall via Twitter)