When Rachael Van Pelt was asked to describe herself, she focused on three areas: school, athletics and volunteering.
The salutatorian of the Class of 2012 said she has “always been interested in math and science and how things work science-wise.”
She applauded “all the math and science teachers that I’ve had—particularly Dr. Shaw and Mr. Grabowski. They really interested me in the subjects.”
And that is why, when it came to selecting a college, Van Pelt chose Cornell University.
“They have a very strong engineering department with a lot of options. It’s a well-rounded school. Right now, I am interested in material science engineering,” she explained, leaving the door open to other possibilities in the engineering realm.
“Plus, I like the outdoors,” she added, referring to Cornell’s upstate New York location. In fact, two years ago she participated in an Outward Bound leadership program in Maine, where she had the opportunity to go canoeing and rock climbing.
Van Pelt, the daughter of Susan and Michael Van Pelt, participated in cheerleading during her first two years at HHS. Then she discovered running and switched to cross country and distance running in her junior year. Though she may continue running at Cornell, she anticipates it would probably be at the club level.
She also served as treasurer for the National Honor Society and as a volunteer coach for the Hillsborough Dukes cheerleading squad.
One of the things Van Pelt is most proud of is her Gold Award, the highest honor awarded by the Girl Scouts of America. A member of Troop 620, Van Pelt spearheaded a project for Project Linus, a non-profit organization that collects blankets for children who are seriously ill, traumatized or otherwise in need.
Van Pelt began by collecting knitting needles, crochet hooks and yarn. With the materials in hand, she conducted classes at local churches and Scout troops, teaching volunteers how to make 8-inch by 8-inch squares. She took the squares – and squares donated by area yarn shops—and made more than 28 blankets for Project Linus.
“It was a lot of work but it was a fun project,” she said.
She expects her salutatory speech to focus on the academic past: “how we’ve moved into the school system together and embracing the fact that we’re all going to be going in different directions.”
“I have a lot of friends here. It’s hard to imagine them not being there but I’m excited to meet new people and to branch out,” Van Pelt said.
She advises future graduates to “get to sleep while you can. Pace yourself—I feel like I made the right decisions," she said. "I think the way I took my classes and paced myself was overall a good idea.”