TOPSHAM — Although she’ll be marching with her fellow Mt. Ararat High seniors on Sunday, Emma Etnier has spent this past school year elsewhere.
Learning last year that she would be moving from Harpswell to Portland, she was faced with a dilemma. She wasn’t keen on either commuting to Topsham each day, or about finishing her high school career in another school.
So Etnier charted her own course.
With just one credit – in English – to complete at Mt. Ararat, Etnier learned from a friend that she could earn it somewhere else. She chose to remain enrolled at Mt. Ararat, while enrolling in a college-level English class at Southern Maine Community College. She also delved into international relations, and took a class at the Maine College of Art.
“I definitely felt like I was going above and beyond by taking the college classes, partly just because taking those classes felt much more independent than being at Mt. Ararat and I was surrounded by peers of all different academic levels,” Etnier said. “I did make a point to test the waters by taking the International Relations class and seeing what studying that would (require), since I have never taken a class like that in high school.”
Etnier found she had much to learn, but she enjoyed the subject enough to stick with it. She plans to study it this fall at Scripps College in California.
“The process for designing my program seemed a bit tedious at times, but was truly quite easy,” Etnier recalled. “I had to get approval from not only Mt. Ararat, but also the Portland Public Schools, since I technically was in their district and would have been going to one of their schools. Once Portland approved the fact that I would be living in Portland, enrolled in Mt. Ararat, and taking classes at SMCC and MECA, it was easy going from there.”
She retained the support of staff at Mt. Ararat, which requires its seniors to complete Capstone, a program marking the culmination of a student’s high school experience. Etnier was able to incorporate that project into her life in Portland.
“With the more open schedule that I had while taking classes at SMCC and MECA, I got an internship at the World Affairs Council of Maine,” she said, adding that her work – ranging from research, to attending council events, to organizing spreadsheets for the executive director – served as her Capstone, which she presented in January.
If Etnier wasn’t busy enough, she also spent January through March in Nicaragua, in an internship at a coffee farm and eco-lodge in the country’s northern mountains.
“I worked with the owner to learn about all that went into running the lodge and helping out in any way, whether that was working in the organic garden, teaching at the nearby school, or helping a Peace Corps Volunteer teach the locals to bake bread,” Etnier said. “The lodge had also recently founded a nonprofit to help fund projects that its founders were starting in the area, so I helped develop and get funding for projects such as building a small dairy farm that would supply much-needed milk to the local students.”
What will remain with her and impact her life the most, she said, was “the eagerness and capability that I gained from living in such a place that now makes me want to explore everywhere and see what I can do to learn about and share with all different cultures.”
With her high school days from coming to a close, Etnier reflected on the greatest lesson she has learned.
“Everyone has something to offer,” she said, “so look at people for who they are rather than the social group they were divided into. If I could give my freshman self some advice, I would say that you should offer your insight in class, even if you’re unsure if it’s right, because you will gain the most by engaging with your peers and allowing everyone’s thoughts to build off each other.”
Emma Etnier, who will soon graduate from Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, spent her senior year taking college courses in Portland. She also spent two months in Nicaragua.
Mt. Ararat High School will hold commencement exercises for the Class of 2015 at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 14, on the school track, or, in case of rain, in the gym.