Four days before her 18th birthday, Piedmont High School senior Kayley Elizabeth Carpenter anxiously awaited news that would change her life forever.
“I knew this was either going to be a really sad birthday or a really happy birthday,” she said.
When the notification came that she had been chosen as a Morehead-Cain scholar, it truly was the best birthday present ever.
“The fact that they only take 65 out of about 2,000 applicants is insane because just about everyone I met at semi-finals and everyone I met at finals was equally qualified and so impressive,” Kayley said. “It was a really cool experience and I’m really psyched that I get to be part of it for the next four years.“
The four-year merit Morehead-Cain scholarship to UNC-Chapel Hill pays full tuition, student fees, housing, meals, books and supplies. It also provides four summer enrichment programs that could take Kayley anywhere in the world.
Kayley, the only UCPS student awarded the Morehead-Cain scholarship, said she believes she was one of the 65 chosen because she has a heart for service.
“You could be talented, but if you don’t use your talents and intelligence to help other people, then what good does it do the world? Absolutely none. I’m very adamant about using my voice to help other people, using my knowledge to help others, and grow in that knowledge.”
Kayley also credits her school counselor, Stacy Butera, for making a difference in the scholarship application process.
“There is no way I would have this scholarship without her. She fought for me to be nominated. She helped me get all the classes I wanted and the opportunities that I wanted. She’s just been a real big influence in my life in high school.”
Butera said she never doubted for one minute that Kayley would win the Morehead-Cain.
“Kayley is such a motivated young lady who is passionate about everything she does, whether it's her academics, community service, her involvement in theater or her future goals,” Butera said. “She pursues everything with purpose and enthusiasm. To see her work so hard to achieve something that will make her goals more attainable and provide her with an exceptional opportunity has made me so proud to be her counselor.”
One example of Kayley’s passion for community service is the creation of Project Unify, a club that works with developmentally disabled students. Membership has grown over the past two years from 20 to 100 members.
“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done in high school,” she said. “It’s called ‘service,’ but we’re getting just as much out of it, so I really don’t count that as service hours. I’m getting stuff out of it too just being around them.”
A multitalented young woman, Kayley also runs cross-country, is captain of the school’s swim team and kick boxes for fun.
To satisfy her artistic appetite, she plays the flute in the school’s band, where she is co-section leader of the percussion ensemble. “There is something about the arts that you can’t get in athletics or academics,” she said. She is pictured, above right, with her band director, Jody Lukac.
Kayley also loves the theater and has been in theater performances since she was five. “I think the biggest skill that you gain from doing theater is being empathetic, and being able to get in someone else’s shoes. That opens your mind and your heart and speaks to you and your abilities and your character.”
An added benefit of being in theater, she said, is that it teaches one to think on her feet and “go with the flow.”
“Not every thing is going to go your way and sometimes you just have to cope with it,” she said.
Kayley may have a service heart, but anyone who knows her will tell you she also has a heart overflowing with compassion for others.
“An important lesson I’ve learned is that you have to have compassion for everyone, even those who have little or no compassion for others,” she said.
“There are mean people who are self-conscious and take it out on other people,” Kayley said. “I had to learn along the way that it’s not about me, it’s them. It’s their personal insecurities making them do that. It’s easy to be compassionate to someone who’s nice to you. It’s hard to be compassionate to someone who’s mean.”
Kayley will begin her college career at Chapel Hill in the fall, with a double major in dramatic arts and nursing. She plans to work part time through graduate school and get her nurse anesthesiology degree.