ODESSA — At 18, Jillian Gordy is working her way down a wide-open road. Twists and turns are to be expected and embraced, she figures, because that could lead to some new opportunity.
And perhaps, accolades.
In November, Jillian was named Pasco County Schools Outstanding Senior for the 2018-2019 school year. She was nominated by peers and faculty at Sunlake High School and selected for the honor by a panel of district and school administrators who interviewed nominees from each high school.
"I can't think of anyone more deserving than she," said Sunlake High principal, Michael Cloyd. "She's smart and has the personality to go with it — genuine, kind, thoughtful — the whole package."
An open-door philosophy, a love for learning and an innate sense of determination have fueled her rise.
"I've always had a passion for learning. and I think that's what's helped me get a good education," Jillian said.
She was inspired by her mom, a marine science teacher at Sunlake and two-time breast cancer survivor, who emphasized the importance of reading and being self sufficient.
"Really, it's all her own doing — all her. She does her own thing, and I just try to make it happen," said Carol Gordy. "She's just always been driven. She was walking at nine and a half months."
And she hasn't slowed down since.
Jillian, an all A student, excelled in Advanced Placement classes at Sunlake High. She earned the AP Scholar Award for landing the top score of 5 on all of her exams. Then she ventured into the dual-enrollment program, racking up 35 college credits (and still counting).
"I think the partnership with PHSC (Pasco-Hernando State College) and Pasco County Schools is amazing, and that’s an opportunity that all sophomores should look into," Jillian said."I’ve had amazing professors — like 'change-my-life' amazing.'
"And if you are going to go to college in Florida, I think it's the best way to go, because you can knock off all those credits and go in as a junior, and still change your major three times and graduate on time because you are ahead of the game."
While Jillian spends most of her time at the PHSC campus, she remains nvolved at Sunlake.
As executive student body president, she initiated two new traditions. To promote student involvement for incoming freshman, members of student council handed out orientation goodie bags filled with information and applications on student clubs and athletic opportunities.
"It gives them, in their hand, something tangible, a way to get involved, so that it’s not just word of mouth," Jillian said. "Theoretically if you get involved with a club or a sport or something that keeps you in school, you are going to be more involved with your classes."
To encourage school spirit, she also worked with school administrators on a parking space activity for seniors, allowing them to design and paint their parking spaces.
"I love the view of Jillian supporting school involvement," Cloyd said. "We recognize that getting students involved, making this feel like home for them is essential to high school integration.
"In terms of student government operations and ideas, she would be the one to bring them to us, so we could think through the logistics and the barriers."
Initially, he was hesitant to "pull the trigger" on the parking lot activity.
Jillian was determined to see it through, said student council faculty sponsor, Vickie Camper.
"She came with an outline of a well thought-out plan" Camper said. "She's mature by years. She has vision and initiative and knows how to follow through."
Jillian also is the Class of 2019 director of the school Key Club and led volunteer projects. She introduced a teen edition of the Toys for Tots drive at her school after realizing that older kids were under-served, and recruited other club leaders, faculty sponsors and staff, as well as the Kiwanis of Greater West Pasco, help out.
"We wanted to make sure they get taken care of, because most times, their parents are working, and they are taking care of their younger siblings. We want to make sure they have a good Christmas just like their younger siblings," she said. "It was pretty successful. You get a little from everybody, and it adds up."
Jillian is president of the French Club and French Honor Society. She is the Sunlake High representative of the Pasco Schools Student Congress. She has been a participant in Youth Leadership Pasco and is a member of the National Honor Society.
As far as where she is headed, there's still time to figure that out.
"I've applied to all the major Florida universities," she said. "I really don't have my heart set on one school. I’m really just looking at the cost, because I probably am going to grad school, and I don't want to spend a ton of money on undergrad school."
Jillian said may study civil engineering — something she never thought of until taking math classes at PHSC — and perhaps law school down the road.
Or, maybe something else.
"It's unrealistic to know what you want to be when you are still in high school," she said with a smile.
But she's more than willing to test the waters.
"I realized pretty early that whatever you think is going to happen is probably not going to happen, so you just need to let go and realize, whatever happens, happens," she said. "I know I’m going to get down the road, and there’s going to be some opportunity that is going to change my direction."
Contact Michele Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6251. Follow @MicheleMiller52.