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Class of 2024: Cooking up academic excellence with a hint of leadership

Abigail Carpenter, a senior at Parkwood High, discovered her passion for baking during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a shared joy with her father, and they spent hours in the kitchen, inspired by The Great British Baking Show. One of their most memorable creations was a batch of chocolate cheesecake bars, a complex recipe that took them about eight hours from start to finish.

"We baked a lot and couldn't give it to anyone, so we'd eat it," she said. "We even started getting Food Network magazines to find new recipes each week."

Abigail found herself with less time to bake once schools reopened. As a result, during her junior year, she enrolled in a food and nutrition course, which shifted her focus from baking to a broader exploration of culinary arts. She excelled in her Foods I class and earned her ServSafe Food Handler Certification. This accomplishment marked a significant milestone, as the certification required extensive studying and a deep understanding of food safety.

Transitioning into her senior year, Abigail enrolled in Culinary I Honors. This course had more challenging recipes, intricate plating and design skills. She mastered various cutting techniques such as julienne, chop and dice, skills she seamlessly transitioned to home use by often assisting her mother with mincing garlic, as her mother is uncomfortable handling larger knives.

"It's not easy learning new cuts and memorizing them. Working as a team in a small kitchen can also have its challenges. There are four kitchens and about 25 students," she said.

She emphasized the importance of teamwork and preparation in cooking, noting that "you have to get all your ingredients together first so you do not waste anything. Missing one ingredient can spoil a recipe. Anyone can read through a recipe, but you must pay close attention to the steps."

Abigail now cooks weekly for her family, favoring dishes rich in spices like coconut curry and peanut sauce chicken. Her favorite meals to prepare are soups, particularly chicken tortilla soup and wild rice soup, with the former being one of the first recipes she mastered in her culinary class.

Abigail also dedicated her time to leadership roles. She served as the secretary for the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) for two consecutive years, from 2022 to 2024. In this role, she was one of the people to help revitalize the club, which had waned in interest and she enjoyed the organizational and communicative aspects of the position.

"Think of FCCLA as merging baking and the National Honor Society. We give back to the community with the things we make. Once, we made about 100 sandwiches for a local homeless shelter, and I was the one who dropped them off," she said.

Her involvement in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) began in ninth grade, and she quickly grew fond of the program's family-like atmosphere. Rising through the ranks, she now serves as the group commander, leading the entire program.

"When I joined it, I didn't know anything about it. I've fallen in love with it. Everyone knows everyone," she said. "I was thrown into a leadership position my sophomore year because Sergeant Marvel saw I had it in me. He took a risk and put me in a position over about 10 or 12 cadets. As the years went by, I ranked higher in the program. With that, I've also received scholarships for my efforts."

Abigail plans to pursue a biological science or genetics degree at North Carolina State University. Her interest was piqued during her sophomore year in Biology Honors when she delved into the DNA unit, prompting her to explore the topic further through independent research. Her fascination with DNA stems from its similarity to a recipe.

"If you change something in the recipe, it changes the final dish. For example, if you remove the chocolate chips from a chocolate chip cookie recipe, you end up with a sugar cookie. Similarly, if you change something in DNA, it changes the organism or even the entire species," she explained.

Abigail's ability to balance her academic and extracurricular activities has been crucial to her success, ensuring she excels in her studies and leadership roles. She credits her organizational skills to her mother, who taught her to write everything down. This habit has served her well in all aspects of life and will undoubtedly benefit her in college.

As she prepares to leave Parkwood High, Abigail expresses deep gratitude for the guidance and expertise of her mentors, Carolyn Hoobler, the CTE Family and Consumer Science teacher, Sergeant Bryan Marvel and Major Gregg Jones.

"Before taking these classes, I couldn't talk to people. Now, I stand up in class, make school announcements, and give presentations," she reflected.

One of her most memorable school experiences was participating in a Chopped Challenge, where the culinary and JROTC teams combined forces to create dishes using military MRE (Meals Ready to Eat). This event captured the best of both her worlds.

Anticipating college life, Abigail expects her cooking skills to help her make friends. "I think once people know I can cook, I might become the designated chef," she said with a smile. "It's a skill I can take anywhere."