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Friday, June 6, 2014

Merrimack senior has ambitious goals

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of profiles of graduating high school seniors.

Hannah Vaccaro attended home school and private school before enrolling at Merrimack High School her freshman year. ...

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of profiles of graduating high school seniors.

Hannah Vaccaro attended home school and private school before enrolling at Merrimack High School her freshman year.

“It was definitely intimidating,” she said of public school. “I had done sports all throughout middle school and elementary school to get to know people, but the public school experience was very different because you had to adapt to a classroom setting.”

The Merrimack senior set ambitious goals from the start.

She took AP classes and became president of the National Honor Society. Vaccaro said she also was motivated by a book given to her by her parents.

“I had read a book called ‘Do Hard Things’ my sophomore year. … It was talking about how so often the world views teenagers with such low expectations and about how to rise above that mediocre stereotype and to do good for people,” she said.

The 2008 book, “Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations,” was written by Alex and Brett Harris.

The book tells stories of young people doing service projects, including a girl who organized a 5K to collect shoes for kids in Kenya.

“I don’t know why. It was such a random story, but it struck me,” she said. “I felt I could do the same thing. When I told my family, they said ‘you have to talk to (Principal) Johnson tomorrow!’ 

“I talked to Mr. Johnson about it, and he was on board. I decided that I wanted to send these shoes that I was going to collect through a 5K to Haiti.”

Vaccaro went to Haiti in 2012 with her mother and church on a mission trip to build an orphanage.

She said her church, Shiloh Community Church, of Manchester, had been to Haiti several times before, and another trip was in the works for February 2012.

“Last minute, two open spots were available,” she said of the trip, which coincided with February vacation. “It was such a perfect plan; that wasn’t coincidence that that happened.”

Her church group teamed up with Manchester nonprofit Vision International Missions for the mission.

Although the project began outside of school, the high school played a part beyond hosting the race.

“Honestly, I feel so blessed to be a part of this high school,” she cited her talk with Mr. Johnson. “He was a big reason why I felt empowered to do it.”

Her peers also got in on the action.

“It’s been awesome to see people I don’t know from school, that I wouldn’t expect to want to help to being like, ‘That’s such an awesome cause, I want to get involved,’ ” she said. “I just had this little dream to help people … but to get everyone involved has been really powerful to me.”

She organized another 5K to benefit Haiti her junior year, and her third is May 31. Registration begins at 9 a.m. at the high school.

When asked what advice she’d share with underclassmen, she said not to miss the opportunities to be close with teachers.

“I think that’s been so influential to me as a person. To build relationships with teachers out of respect for one another. There’s a collaboration that happens that’s really unique.”

In the fall, Vaccaro’s off to Grove City College north of Pittsburgh, Pa.

“It’s a smaller Christian College, but they have an entrepreneurship major,” she said. Her dream is to work for or own a service-oriented nonprofit. “I’m going to learn a lot and hopefully find my way.”

The June 14 graduation brings mixed emotions for Vaccaro.

“I can’t tell if I’m sentimental and emotional or excited to be out. I guess a little bit of both,” she said. “It’s going to be weird to have a fresh start, a blank slate. I’m excited for that … but I’m going to miss high school, definitely, because I feel like there’s no experience like high school.”