Ask Melissa Morlan just what she wanted to get out of the high school experience and the answer is a short one.
"Everything," she says with a smile.
Mission accomplished, or close to it when you take a look at a high school resume (see box) that boasts accolades in academics, sports and community service. At the very least, you could say she is very well-rounded; a model student.
No doubt that's what many of her peers and Gulf High faculty members thought when they voted her in as Outstanding Senior. No doubt that's what the district selection committee, led by Rob Aguis, thought when they reviewed the pool of high school nominees and selected Melissa as the overall Pasco School District's Outstanding Senior Award winner for the Class of 2011.
"She is an all-around great student," said Claudia Alwood who teaches IB History of the Americas at Gulf High and was one of several faulty members to nominate Melissa for the school honor. "She's a leader both in the classroom and in the school. She works hard and has the discipline to excel in all her classes. She goes over and beyond what we expect. Academically, she's sharp, she's bright and she delivers."
"She's the complete package," said Gulf High principal Steve Knobl. "One of the things that stands out for me about Melissa is that she's a tremendous student leader. A very balanced student who has excelled in the IB program. What separates her from a lot of the seniors in Pasco County is that while she has a lot of the same pieces that a lot of kids have academically, she's also the goalie and team captain for our soccer team. She has almost 250 community service hours, and she takes a lot of leadership roles here at school."
Melissa says she didn't set out to be the best. Sure, she was always one to strive academically — something that earned her spots in the gifted programs at Deer Park Elementary and Seven Springs Middle and the International Baccalaureate program at Gulf High.
But she wanted more.
That has her constantly on the go, cramming her schedule with a boatload of activities — from selling brownies at the school curriculum fair, to planning 18 hours of entertainment for the upcoming Relay for Life event for the American Cancer Society, to playing goalkeeper at regional soccer competition.
"And there's always homework," she says. "It's never-ending."
What drives such a student?
No doubt her parents, Kim and Scott Morlan, have served as an inspiring and grounding influence.
"I think pride in your school also motivates you," said Melissa, who has been offered scholarships to Florida State and Tulane universities and is waiting to hear from her first choice, the University of Florida. "If you can be involved in clubs and sports there's a sense of pride in being at school, and then you have the motivation to do well."
Melissa delivered that message to students attending an honor roll assembly at Gulf Middle School last week, along with a nudge to incoming high school students throughout the county to remember that "freshman year counts."
"Keep on top of things. Prioritize and plan ahead. Be involved," is her advice to those looking to make the most of their high school years. "Enjoy it, but don't waste it."