FHS Student Turns her Life Around
By Rebecca D.
Looking back on her life, Kirsten Merrill has come a long way since the beginning of high school. After nearly failing grade 9 English, she is now going to Dalhousie University, one of Canada’s top employers, next fall. “It’s amazing how much has changed over 4 years,” Kirsten said, “My family feels very proud for what I have accomplished.”
Merrill, a student of Fredericton High School, was awarded the Turnaround Achievement award and a $5000 scholarship to the University of New Brunswick April 24th. “I deserve the award because I did exactly what the title implies, turned my life around,” she said, “When I first came to FHS, I rarely came to school. I spent most of my first two years in the in-school detention center. It wasn’t until 11th grade that I began to overcome my struggles and people started noticing the ‘turnaround’ in my life.” Noella Jeong, Kirsten’s grade 9 English teacher, noticed her performance issues and was already considering her for the Turnaround award. “When Kirsten was in my class in grade 9, and I saw how she was doing compared to how I thought she was capable of doing, I thought that if she started to live up to her potential and get herself together, she’d be an excellent candidate,” Mrs. Jeong said, “She deserved this award because it is very difficult to pull yourself up from such a tough situation where you’ve made bad habits for yourself. It would have been so much easier to just go along with the rough crowd she was with, and it would have been so much easier to skip school and have fun. By making the choice to stop this self-destructive behavior, Kirsten proved that she has inner strength that is worthy of praise!”
She then kept track of Kirsten throughout high school, checking in with Valerie Marshall, her homeroom advisor. “Even after she wasn’t in my class anymore, I checked in with Mrs. Marshall to see how she was doing. Mrs. Marshall and I maintained contact about Kirsten and were very happy to watch as she began to turn her life around,” she said.
Mrs. Jeong and Mrs. Marshall nominated Kirsten for the award, along with Mr. Batt, who taught her math. Mrs. Jeong was previously involved in a Turnaround Achievement Awards ceremony twice before, but both times were at Elementary level. “The ceremony was very emotional,” She said, “I had to hold back tears through many of the stories that were shared about deserving students. The best part of the whole night for me was seeing the pride in the eyes of Kirsten’s mother and grandparents as they watched her experience her moment!”
Kirsten’s grandparents, Willard and Kathy Merrill, and her mother, Ola Merrill, attended the ceremony. “The biggest role in my success was the support from my family and friends, especially my mom. Without them I probably wouldn’t even be graduating, let alone going to university,” Kirsten said. Mrs. Jeong agreed that support from your family is important. “I think that high school students who want to succeed need to realize that adults in their lives who may seem to be ‘giving them a hard time’ really do have their best interests at heart,” she said, “If your parents or teachers are trying to force you to be in school and do your work, it’s because they believe in you and they want to see you do well. It is also very important to evaluate your life and choices from time to time to see where you’re headed and whether you’re on the right track. Even as adults we do this, and it’s a good habit to get into.”
The Award came with a $5000 scholarship to UNB, which Kirsten unfortunately cannot use with her acceptance to Dalhousie. “I was overwhelmed and excited when I won the award,” she said, “Not being able to use my scholarship wasn’t ideal, but I was just excited and proud of myself to have won it. My family felt the same way, they were proud of what I accomplished. I was just happy for making my parents proud.” The scholarship was not the most important aspect of the award, but rather the accomplishment.
“It would have been nice if Kirsten had been awarded a scholarship to the school she had already registered for,” Mrs. Jeong said, “but I’m assuming that the scholarship was local because many local businesses work together to support this event.” The event, hosted by Kingswood, gave out many other scholarships.
“I remember taking a group picture with all of the award winners and being prepped for the order of our speeches.” Kirsten said. The ceremony consisted of many awards, scholarships and speeches. “There was a main speaker who talked about the award and the event before we did our speeches. Then in order we all did our acceptance speeches where a teacher would first speak about why they nominated you, then you would give your speech and received a medal,” she said, “After that, they announced the scholarships. Lastly, all of the nominees stood in a line and were congratulated by everybody there.” Kirsten’s speech was brief and to the point. “The speech I made was in the moment, I had nothing planned so it’s hard to remember specifics,” she admitted, “I remember thanking Kingswood for the award, the teachers that nominated me, my family, and specially thanked my mom. I talked about what I had gone through to achieve the award as well.”
As a tip to high school students hoping to succeed, Kirsten said, “Work as hard as you can and never give up on yourself.” Mrs. Jeong added, “Although I think there were people who helped Kirsten along the way, the greatest credit belongs to Kirsten herself. Nobody could have forced her to get her life back on track if she didn’t want to create changes within herself. I am very proud of her, and I feel that students like Kirsten should stand tall as motivation for other students who may be struggling!”
Kirsten is not only a role model to younger students, but also inspires her friends and peers to do better. “Kirsten works hard in class and gets all her assignments passed in on time,” said Scott Mann, a grade 12 student at Fredericton High School, “She has generally high grades. It just goes to show that if you work hard and stay on track, you can be successful.”
The Turnaround Award isn’t awarded to just anybody. Kirsten Merrill went from being a student with very poor performance to an outstanding student with an above-average GPA and an acceptance to one of the best Post-Secondary schools in Canada. This success allows her many options for the future, where endless possibilities await her.
Kirsten Merrill at the Turnaround Achievement Awards Ceremony, April 24th, 2013 with her Grandparents, Willard and Kathy Merrill.
Photo Credits: Ola Merrill