Local winner of national merit scholarship keeps teachers on the ball

April 22, 2011 

Hilton Head Island High School teacher Larry Mercer says 17-year-old Haley Stuligross is the perfect student -- responsible, respectful, smart and interested in what's being taught in class.

And, Mercer added, she has pushed him to become a better teacher.

"You have to keep yourself on the ball to make sure you are giving Haley your best because you know she is giving you her best," said Mercer, who teaches music and is Stuligross' choir director. "She is a student that every teacher loves to have."

Stuligross is one of 10 South Carolina students to win a corporate-sponsored college scholarship through the National Merit Scholarship Program this year, the organization announced this week. She joins about 1,000 high school seniors nationwide to win scholarships sponsored by more than 200 companies.

Her award -- worth $6,000 over four years -- is sponsored by Gulfsteam/Rolls-Royce and is reserved for the children of Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. employees.

Additional winners of other types of National Merit scholarships will be announced later this spring.

Stuligross attended Hilton Head Christian Academy before transferring two years ago to Hilton Head High, where she is in the International Baccalaureate program and is a student government representative.

This fall, she plans to attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville and study human and organizational development through a social sciences program unique to Vanderbilt. She said the program focuses on leadership and group skills in the workplace.

Stuligross hopes the program will prepare her for a career on the business side of performing arts.

"It seems like the perfect way to combine my passion with preparation for working in the corporate world, which is what I am interested, as of now, in doing for the long run," she said.

Stuligross developed her love for music and theater early. She sang in the children's choir at First Presbyterian Church and was in fifth grade when she earned her first role, an orphan in a community production of "Annie."

Since then, Stuligross estimates she has acted, sung or danced in about 25 productions through school, the Main Street Youth Theatre and the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. She performs during the contemporary service at First Presbyterian on Sundays and watches performances her friends are in during her free time.

This week, Stuligross traveled to New York City with an advanced Hilton Head High performing choir to prepare for a Sunday performance at Carnegie Hall. The students will perform in a mass choir directed by world-famous conductor and composer John Rutter.

Stuligross said she loves performing because of the camaraderie among cast mates and the variety the theater offers: Its many different shows give an opportunity to play many different roles and try different styles.

"It's fun for me to take on other characters and learn from playing other people," she said.

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