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During the November 21st celebration of the Carolina College Advising Corps at Rockingham County High School, adviser Madeline Merrill gave a heartfelt speech about what her time at RCHS has meant to her. Madeline did an excellent job speaking sincerely about her experience, and sharing in a way that allowed those listening to understand how she has grown through her time in Rockingham County. You can read Madeline’s speech below:

Madeline Merrill

To our distinguished guests; esteemed members of our community; my fearless leader, Principal Weaver; my irreplaceable teammates Mrs. Hazelwood, Ms. Deaton, Mrs. Attaway, and Ms. Knight; Gloria Schoeberle, my fellow college adviser; and my wonderful, fantastic students who continually inspire me:

I stand here before you today, completely humbled and overwhelmed by your support of the Carolina College Advising Corps, and grateful for your continual prioritization of this program. It is with bittersweet emotions that I acknowledge I am a second-year adviser for this program, and that eight months from now, my time with the Corps will draw to a close, and I will pack up my UHaul and head off to Charlottesville for a Masters in Public Policy. It has been a true blessing to have spent the last one and a half years in Rockingham County. I am thankful to all who have made this possible.

Two years ago, I stood in the Pit at UNC Chapel Hill, a senior English major with Chuck Taylors on my feet and a sticker-laden Nalgene in my hand. I explained to prospective students and their parents the merits of UNC Chapel Hill, and why I selected Carolina as my higher education institution of choice. I was a tour guide at UNC, and spent many hours trying (but failing miserably) to talk AND walk backwards on the cobblestoned and uneven bricks in the quad and in the Pit. Suffice to say that I tripped often and stumbled regularly in my quest to show off the best of Carolina. My joke of choice: “You’ll fall for Carolina, too!”

During my time as a tour guide, I had the unique privilege of viewing first-hand the countless walks of life that made their way to Jackson Hall. I dare submit that my experience was not unique to the UNC Chapel Hill admissions office. All over our country, equally diverse spectrums of applicants knock on the doors of higher education institutions, all with their own strengths and challenges. I often reflected during my time as a tour guide that the playing field was just not even for prospective students. Some flew in from New York, DC, LA, or Charlotte, all at very early ages—one in a long line of their families to consider becoming a Tar Heel or a Blue Devil, a Spartan, or a member of the Wolf Pack. Meanwhile, for other families from Pink Hill, Eden, Buncombe County or Stokes County, the trek up the steps to Jackson Hall was anything but familiar. For first-generation college students, the road to higher education is often less than inviting, but I tried my hardest to make everyone feel welcome during my quickly-moving, hour-long walking tour of campus, which was never complete without my performance of terrible puns and bad jokes. How little did I know at that time about the obstacles and cultural roadblocks first-generation, low-income students faced when at the threshold of continuing education.

Fast forward six months, and it was time to apply to the Carolina College Advising Corps. I will never forget the round-table interview process. My guidance team loves to joke with me that I have a lot of nervous energy, and that interview day was no exception. I traipsed up to the Alumni Center, sweating bullets and praying and hoping and wishing that someone would be crazy enough to employ this soon-to-be-alumna.

I am happy to report that I found my home with Mr. Weaver and Shannon Hazelwood. We joked across the interview table, and immediately, I knew: This was the team for whom I wanted to work. Their passion for their students was palpable, and yet they knew how to balance relationships with the job. In that moment, the big blank page of post-graduate life didn’t seem so daunting, as long as I had Shannon and Mr. Weaver on my team. And a little known coincidence—I actually gave Rockingham County High School their Carolina tour the fall of my senior year. Talk about coincidence, that I met Leslie Deaton long before I ever knew I would be her coworker: Rockingham County High School was meant to be.

I would just like to take a moment and tip my hat to this wonderful little school that I am so proud to call a partner of the Carolina College Advising Corps. Truly, we do our collective best to make sure every student has a plan, a purpose, that they feel loved and cared for and supported. Whether they want to go to the military, Rockingham Community College, UNC Chapel Hill, or even Harvard, we daily do our best to make their dreams come true. I can’t say it enough—I have wonderful partners in this role, and I count myself so fortunate that they allowed me to visit their community for two years. Misty Attaway, Beth Knight, Shannon Hazelwood, Leslie Deaton–they let me in as a guest, into this welcoming and inclusive Rockingham family, and in turn, invited me to roll up my sleeves, and to work alongside them.

Speaking of teamwork, Rockingham Community College’s Interim President is here today: Welcome to RCHS, sir. Our high school has a fantastic working relationship with the college. RCC is so kind to our students, and tries to make every student feel excited about the next chapter of their life, by mailing acceptance letters to students who apply and are accepted. Take it from someone who is in the high school setting every day—to have that type of validation and institutional support right from the get-go is a wonderful thing. College is a big step for everyone—that sense of excitement and pride should not be exclusively provided to only the four-year bound students.

Just some highlights from this year—RCC played host to our Rockingham County/Carolina College Advising Corps Common Application event. During this meeting in our favorite Whitcomb Student Activity Center, students from all four county high schools were able to meet with representatives from Duke, Carolina, Davidson, and Wake Forest, among others. It would not have been possible without RCC’s assistance. And this year alone, our Cougars have sent off 100 applications to RCC, 70 to Guilford Technical Community College, and 20 to Forsyth Technical Community College. We as a Guidance department intimately understand that community college is affordable, accessible, and a fabulous stepping stone to a four-year degree, or a wonderful option for those who want to train for a vocation. We unanimously agree—our world now necessitates more than just a high school diploma, and I submit that our RCC and GTCC submission rates reflect this shift in our world’s competitive economy. 156 of our 235 seniors had individualized appointments last week during College Application Week, the big time frame during which certain private schools across our state waive their application fee. Thus far this year, I have met 93 individual sets of parents, and have held 180 one-on-one meetings with different members of the senior class. Suffice to say, it has been a busy year!

In short, my daily commute to work is one of cows and untethered horses; tobacco fields surround my Jeep as I round the bends of Church Street heading north, and I have seen more camouflage in the past year than I have EVER seen in my entire life. But I would be remiss in omitting that I already mourn leaving this post, that I am already dreading packing up my little records-room-turned-office and heading off to Charlottesville, because this has truly been the most rewarding experience of my life. Thank you to Rockingham County and the Carolina College Advising Corps for this unique and special partnership, and thank you for allowing me in to your community, your school, and your lives.

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