DN-R Leadership Awards — HHS: Waligora Too Busy To Find Time For Sleep

Posted: May 23, 2014

Michelle Waligora will be enrolled in honors program at Virginia Tech and is pursuing a career as a veterinarian. (Photo by Jason Lenhart)

HARRISONBURG — Between captaining the debate team, playing on the varsity girls tennis team, teaching Sunday School at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church and volunteering for the SPCA and other charities, Harrisonburg High School senior Michelle Waligora hardly has time to sleep.

Still, the 18-year-old aspiring veterinarian has managed an impressive 4.41 GPA, ranking her third in her class of 388 — and also finds time to tutor fellow students through a program that she created.

After her first time tutoring a student in her school’s AVID — Advancement Via Individual Determination — program, Waligora decided she wanted to help younger students who may one day be first-generation college students.

“I never really considered the fact that that can really make such a difference for others at my school; I didn’t think there could be such a bridge between two spheres of our school,” said Waligora, the daughter of Andrew and Martha Waligora of Harrisonburg, and one of four HHS finalists for the 2014 Daily News-Record Leadership Award. “It’s really not a huge time commitment ... just two hours a week and it can make such a huge difference.”

Waligora’s debate coach, Peter Norment, also teaches the AVID program at HHS, which is designed to help students become eligible for college. He asked her to tutor a few students after school, he explained in his letter to the DN-R Leadership Awards Committee, and she almost immediately felt compelled to start a mentorship program for higher-level Advanced Placement students to tutor younger AVID students.

“She viewed it as an opportunity to help bridge a cultural gap at our school, to make connections that usually don’t get made,” he wrote. “She did this not because it would look good on a resume, but because she felt it was the right thing to do. …  She is not a teacher, not a counselor, but a student …  a truly remarkable student.”

Debate is another of Waligora’s many activities that has been particularly influential in her life since she started her sophomore year, she said. For one thing, it’s taught her that there’s no black and white in this world — everything is more complicated than that.

“A lot of the skills I’ve learned from debate are going to be skills I’ll have for the rest of my life,” she said. “I’ve learned so much about current events and politics and the way the world works.”

Waligora will be in the honors program at Virginia Tech in the fall as a biology major with a pre-veterinary focus. She has always known she was born to be a vet, she said.

“Ever since I was able to talk, it was just what I was supposed to do,” she said. “I just always had this drive toward being a veterinarian.”

Contact Kassondra Cloos at 574-6290 or kcloos@dnronline.com  

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