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Column: A thirst for knowledge
Tom Poland.jpg
Tom Poland

June 1 is moving day in Hartsville, South Carolina. That’s when the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics (GSSM) sends 138 seniors into the world. Among them Abbi Fralick and Randi Gamble will graduate, while Patricio Ortiz and Christian Dunlap rise as seniors. Each student’s story has nothing to do with complacency but everything to do with excellence. These students thirst for knowledge and they welcome difficult challenges.

Randi Gamble of Summerville is an achiever who was eager for new challenges. “I wanted more math and science,” she said. She got that math and science at the Governor’s School and fit right into the environment. “I liked the community here. I liked being surrounded by people who wanted to go to college and be successful in life.”

Going to GSSM changed Randi. “Living here on my own allowed me to better know who I am,” she said, acknowledging that being around family can sometimes hamper that. “I’ve grown a lot as a person.”

She plans to attend New York University in New York City to study Spanish. That represents a big change, but change is the path she treads. She wants to go to law school and to get a master’s as well. Her career choices include becoming an immigration lawyer and healthcare as well. “I want to help people who are vulnerable,” she said.

Life and learning changed Randi, and she wants people to understand that she’s a hard worker and that the path she’s chosen hasn’t been a smooth one. “Growing up, things weren’t always easy,” she said. That’s a fact. Her father died last fall. “It was hard to continue being in school, but I did.” That she did and soon she will enter a new world entirely and further pursue her goal to help people, vulnerable people especially.

Abbi Fralick hails from North Augusta. A summer science camp at GSSM following 8th Grade impressed her. The camp focused on neuroscience. “I really liked it,” she said. She appreciated the in-depth approach and realized her fellow students were more like her. “I felt more comfortable here academically.”

Abbi plans to attend Dartmouth, perhaps pursue neuroscience studies and become a physician. “I’m interested in the bigger picture as healthcare goes,” she said, “the public policy side of healthcare.”

Attending GSSM changed her. “I was shy when I came here. I’m an only child and coming here was a transition.” After arriving at GSSM, it didn’t take her long to realize she was surrounded by a lot of academic superstars. The shyness faded and she had fun with new friends. “One month after moving in here, around 3 a.m., my friends and I decided to make a music video, Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby.’ That was one of the first time I felt, ‘It’s ok here. I can do hard things and have fun, too.’” She laughs as she recalls how she and three friends ended up with eyeliner all over their faces.

Abbi was the tennis team co-captain and played basketball while at GSSM. “I wasn’t that good, but I had fun.” She also served as the drama stage manager. Her fellow students elected her Student Council president. That doesn’t sound shy, does it?

Christian Dunlap, a junior, came to GSSM, in part, because his mom was moving to Ohio and his dad was living in Rock Hill. Coming to GSSM solved two problems for him. He had a home away from home and could immerse himself in a rigorous learning environment.

“Academically, I’ve changed,” said Christian who keeps his focus on academics and high standards. “Anyone who has the willpower can come to the school here and thrive. Coming here is definitely a solid step academically.” He’s a bit unsure for now, but he believes he may study English or math. He’s interested in writing and math. “I might like to work with statistics.”

Before coming to GSSM, Christian had never met Asians or Muslims. Nor had he met wealthy people. “Everyone is different and everyone has a story to tell.” That’s for sure and so does a young man by the name of Christian Dunlap. This summer, he will go to China to work on a documentary on an engineering project to help China better manage pollution. After that he’ll work for the ACLU in Washington, D.C., thanks to a scholarship.

Christian appreciates all the wonderful opportunities coming his way and says none of it would have happened had he not decided to come to Hartsville. He has a message for others like him. “The school would love to have you and your talents.”

Patricio Ortiz, a junior, is from Simpsonville. His grandfather was a Bolivian diplomat sent to the U.S. Patricio brims with energy and strives for excellence in all things. He wanted a challenge in high school, so he took a college math course. Later he applied to GSSM. He likes the intense focus on academics.

“I fell in love with writing and will take more English and writing courses my senior year. I’ll take every writing class, every math, chemistry, and physics elective.” He and his fellow students have fun, too. During a room check one night, fellows from another floor staged a mock attack. “They hit us with pool noodles.” No harm done. Boys will be boys, as the saying goes.

Patricio takes the reins from Abbi as the newly elected president of Student Council. As for the summer break, it won’t be much of a break. From June 3 until August 14, he’ll research condensed matter physics at Clemson. “I’ll be working with a laser, a $2 million Linseis System, that’s dangerous to work with, but safeguards are in place.”

Patricio, looking to the future, sees himself as a mathematician or physics teacher. Don’t rule out public service. He enjoys the YMCA Youth In Government program. “We get to debate bills in the State House chamber.” Writing, politics, teaching? In all likelihood, Patricio will purse public service. Whatever he pursues, he’ll do fine.

In its 30th anniversary year, GSSM is graduating another stellar class. All students support each other’s quest for achievement and all will make great leaders. As for Randi, Abbi, Christian, and Patricio, all will succeed in whatever they do. Their pursuit of excellence and desire to conquer challenges will serve them and our society quite well. In an age when it’s vogue to criticize young people it’s reassuring to see that the desire to succeed is alive and well, and especially so among students at GSSM in Hartsville, South Carolina.