Emily Shelton: 16 and graduating

Junior Emily Shelton lives and breathes chemistry. From her daily attire of chemistry-related shirts to the genuine enthusiasm she shows in her AP Chemistry class, it’s pretty clear that Shelton’s passion for science is unparalleled by most other students.

But if you think that her love for chemistry ends there, it doesn’t. Motivated by her goal to become a chemical engineer, Shelton plans to graduate from Walnut High School as a junior and attend a research university next fall.

“Chemistry has been the thing that really drives me forward and I know that sounds really nerdy. Last year, I had it in sixth period and so, I would always tell myself, ‘Just get through this day. I know you’re really tired but don’t worry, because then only two more, three more classes, then you have chem. Don’t worry,’” Shelton said. “Also, the environment it’s created. You know how, when you get good at something, it becomes more fun, right? Because when you get good at something, people come up and ask you for help as well, and I really enjoy that. When watching someone figure something out when you’re helping them do it, or trying to rephrase something a different way to help them understand too. You learn it together and it’s great.”

It all started in sixth grade. Under the guidance of science teacher Michelle Lorrain, Shelton was inspired to take her enthusiasm for science beyond school and began registering herself in online classes.

“I had a really great science teacher and I started taking online classes and stuff, just watching videos. I really enjoyed that with science. Any problem that you have, anything that you can imagine or don’t understand you can go and find it out with an experiment. You know? Get your hands dirty and test it out,” Shelton said. “Chemistry is probably my favorite science because it really combines math and using knowledge to help you understand the way the world works around you.”

As a freshman, Shelton had originally planned to stay the four years in high school. However, with the elimination of the Spanish V course and the thought of not taking a chemistry class in her senior year, she made the decision to graduate early.

“You have to be a specific type of person to do this because there is a lot of benefit to being in high school for four years. But for me, the last year I have, I won’t have a language and I won’t have chem. It’s also really sad because you get to really enjoy your friends, and you really like them and you don’t want to leave them,” Shelton said. “I think I can live with it [though]. I love friends a lot, but I think that, while it would be nice to stay with them for another year, I know that you make more friends in college and with the advent of social media and all that stuff, I don’t think staying connected will be a problem.”

For Shelton, her decision to graduate as a junior has come at a high price. While graduating early does guarantee her more time to pursue a chemistry major, Shelton has had to take classes outside of Walnut High School and two English classes in her junior year.

“I took summer school and I’m taking seven classes right now. Also, it’s almost suicide because I’m taking two English classes this year. Just the support of everyone around has helped,” Shelton said. “With the schedule I have, I can’t fool around too much, so it’s good that I don’t have social media.”

Throughout it all, time management and the support of her friends and family have allowed her to balance her hectic schedule.

“My family’s really supportive of this. Originally, at first, they were kind of like, ‘Why would you want to do that? None of your sisters have done that. That’s really weird.’ But, really they’ve just kind of supported the heck out of me with this. They’re really great, I love my family,” Shelton said. “My friends have been fantastic. When I have a big project due or don’t have a good night’s sleep, it lifts my spirits to have my friends around me.”

With graduation six months in reach, Shelton looks forward to taking her passion for chemistry beyond high school at an R1 research university. Until then, however, she will savor every last bit of high school – chemistry and all.

“Hard work can pay off. My parents told me to buckle down and do my work, and just watch what happens in the end. And now, I get to graduate early,” Shelton said.

By Alison Chang, Feature Editor

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