Garner valedictorian has an independent streak

kjahner@newsobserver.comJune 10, 2013 

Mary Anna Rice likes art; she’s the president of the art club at Garner Magnet High School. She also likes creative writing; she’s in the creative writing club and enters her stories into competitions. So now that she’s graduating, what will she pursue as a college major?

Biomedical engineering. Duh.

Rice graduates from Garner High as a valedictorian preparing to enter N.C. State’s well-respected engineering program. Her academic drive easily kept pace with her divergent interests, as she outpaced the rest of her class with a 5.25 GPA.

Rice’s future interests include biomedical research in the areas of developing new medicines or robotics to improve prosthetic limbs. She also has interest in stem cell research and potential cancer-treatment applications. In addition to her more artistic activities, she was also on the school’s science Olympiad varsity team.

Rice’s academic success might confound some, since she’s never seen a B. In fact school didn’t even present a challenge to her until high school.

“My favorite thing about high school was joining the I.B. (International Baccalaureate) program,” said the lifelong Garner resident. “Up until that point I hadn’t been challenged academically.”

In that program she made close friends with the other 30-40 students in the program that would populate most of her classes. Her mother says socially she’s right there with other kids, but she never had to motivate her.

““I don’t think there was ever a time where we had to make her study,” said her mother Cynthia, a nurse at WakeMed. “I can’t say enough for her, for what she’s accomplished.”

She also said she doesn’t know where she got her abilities. Rice said her sister, a junior at Garner High, broke out in laughter as she overheard a question of whether her siblings excelled academically the way she did.

“My parents were very supportive of me, they never pressured into making good grades, just congratulated me when I did,” Rice said. “I’d freak out more than they would when I got lower grades than I anticipated.”

An edge

Asked what she thought other people might say about her, she acknowledged that her family considers her diligent and determined. She also willingly pointed to some rougher edges.

Rice doesn’t fit a quiet book nerd stereotype. Driven and competitive, she used to play soccer before retiring at 16. That competitive spirit translated to her studies and combined with her acumen to produce a strong will.

“Some people would say I’m sarcastic,” she said. “I have a quick temper.”

She said she will get fired up about a variety of topics for which she has a passion. For example, she said some poke fun at her for being a feminist at times.

“She’ll never say she’s wrong,” her mother said. “And she usually is right, I’ll give her that.”

There is one exception that puts her on more common ground than most of her capabilities, her mother later noted: “She has to have a GPS to find anything.”

She’s written her valedictorian speech and it’s going through the approval process with a teacher and the principal, she said. She knows certain things she wanted to say may not make the cut. For example, the school system called her “Mary Rice” on things like her academic awards rather than use her full given name “Mary Anna.”

“I didn’t think my principal would be too happy with me saying that.”

She said she’s not particularly experienced in public speeking, but isn’t all that worried about it.

“I’ll be OK doing it. It’ll be in front of my classmates,” she said.

Moving on

After a high school full of advanced classes and a variety of activities, Rice finds her self in no hurry to fill her summer schedule.

“I’ve been urged by my parents repeatedly to get a job. I’m having difficulty finding one,” she said. “I worked as a waitress in the past, but I don’t want to go back into that.”

She does babysit regularly. Aside from paid gigs she has two brothers at Vandora Springs Elementary School – where she attended – whom she picks up from school, coaches soccer, and watches for her mom and step-father.

She also helps with Sunday School on the weekends, watching two- and three-year-olds at First Baptist Church of Garner.

But soon she’ll be off to college, far enough to be on her own, close enough to drop in for a free meal. (With a Wolfpack uncle and a Tar Heel mother, she merely chose sides in an already-divided family.) Along with the engineering program, she said she really likes the Raleigh area and looks forward to branching out.

“I think it will be a good experience to be out more in the real world, and also be away from my family for a little bit,” she said.

“I’ll come do my laundry there, maybe take things from the house without anyone noticing,” she added jokingly.

Jahner: 919-829-4822

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