I do not know West Johnston High School senior Melanie Langess, but she has my respect and admiration.
Like me, Miss Langess was a Morehead-Cain Scholarship nominee, but unlike me, she actually won the prestigious scholarship. In case you don’t know, the Morehead-Cain, or the Morehead in my day, pays for four years of undergraduate study at UNC-Chapel Hill and foots the bill for summer-enrichment programs that can include overseas travel.
In my defense, I lost our school’s nomination to a classmate who aced the SAT, one of nine people in North America to accomplish that feat in 1978, if memory serves. But if truth be told, beyond grade-point average, I wasn’t Morehead material.
According to the scholarship’s website, the committee that chooses the winners is looking for high school seniors “for whom knowledge is about more than grades and test scores, and for whom learning is an appetite rather than a means to an end.”
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That wasn’t me in high school. Throughout my public school career, I fretted about grades and test scores because I needed good grades and scores to get into college. But I didn’t want to go to college because I had an appetite for learning. To be honest, all these years later, I still don’t know why I wanted to go to college, though I can’t recall ever thinking to myself that I needed to go to college to get a good job.
I didn’t begin to develop an appetite for learning until I got to Chapel Hill, soaking up religion courses in particular. But four years later, I was hungrier for work than knowledge, so I got a job at a newspaper, which, if you think about it, is a chance to learn something new every day.
But an appetite for learning for learning’s sake? I might have been in my late 30s or early 40s before I started reading about math and science, technology and philosophy, foreign affairs and economics simply because I wanted to learn about those subjects.
And that’s why I admire Miss Langess. Just a teenager, she already has an appetite for learning, one that landed her a prestigious scholarship and will no doubt serve her well at Carolina. She’s a lesson in learning that all parents would do well to pass along to their children. And who knows? A free ride to Carolina might be the reward.