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Small-town student seizes big opportunities
Lilith Bachand, a junior at North Country Union High School, just learned a week ago that she was named a 2023 QuestBridge College Prep Scholar. As one of 3,500 high school juniors selected from more than 15,000 applicants nationwide, Lilith also has a strong chance of being awarded a four-year college scholarship through QuestBridge’s College Match program next year.
It’s a prestigious award and a big opportunity, particularly for a student from a small town. And, Lilith says, the application process presented an additional opportunity – to think differently about where she comes from.
“We were asked to write an essay about how our hometown affected us in a positive way,” says Lilith, who grew up in Island Pond, population 758. “At first I found it challenging, because so much emphasis is placed on the ‘cons’ of growing up in a small rural town.” While it’s easy to focus on problems like substance abuse and multi-generational poverty, she says, the process of writing that essay made Lilith grateful for the unique combination of experiences her upbringing has afforded her.
“I go to rallies for political and social causes, and I’ve had my hunting license since I was 7 years old. I also really appreciate and take advantage of any opportunities I get through my high school.”
She’s definitely done that – whether it’s traveling the world (she just returned from a trip to Spain and Morocco with her visual arts program), strengthening her body and mind (through weightlifting and a schedule full of AP courses), or being a leader in her community.
Lilith was also selected to participate in a panel discussion next week, during which several students will speak with former Attorney General Eric Holder about his career and his recent book on voting rights. Students will meet with Holder during the morning of Tuesday, May 16, and a second event – at 7:00 that evening at Burlington’s Flynn Center – is open to the public. (Those interested in tickets can find more information at flynnvt.org.)
Lilith hopes she’ll have a chance to ask Holder about his “day-to-day” as Attorney General. “That’s been one of my dream jobs for … almost forever,” says Lilith, who hopes to study law.
“As a little kid, I was always super argumentative, and everyone said, ‘You should be a lawyer!’” she laughs. She also notes that both her father and her grandfather are police officers, so matters of law were often woven into the background of family conversation. She’s still unsure of the legal specialty she might pursue, since she’s equally interested in criminal, educational and environmental law.
In fact, Lilith is currently part of an independent environmental study program that will take her to the Galapagos Islands this summer. Tasked with comparing environmental factors between the Galapagos and their home state, Lilith chose to study how the El Nino trade winds have impacted climate and society in both locations, and she’ll present her research findings to the school board when she returns.
Luckily for her, it will be a familiar audience, as Lilith serves as one of three student liaisons to the North Country Union School Board. “At the meetings, we present what’s going on in school and how the students feel about it,” says Lilith, for whom that ask presented an interesting challenge and yet another opportunity for introspection. “You’re not just speaking for yourself, but you’re representing the entire student body. I have a lot of opinions, so I’ve had to reflect and detach,” she says. She notes that she has been really impressed with how interested the School Board members are in what the students have to say, whether good or bad. “That’s really energizing, and it makes me remember why I chose to be active in that realm,” Lilith says.
Lilith has also chosen to be active in fostering more cultural awareness in her community. She teamed up with a friend, a student of color who moved to Vermont from Atlanta, to moderate diversity-and-inclusion-themed workshops with students at nearby Troy Elementary School. “The hope is to teach students how to recognize and address behavior that can be hurtful, and stop it before it becomes ingrained,” Lilith explains.
While she’s now a dedicated student, Lilith admits that wasn’t always the case, and she gives credit to several excellent teachers, including Tyler Alexander, Amy Alexander, Jeremiah Melhuish and Chris Murphy. “My freshman year, I didn’t really put much effort into school. I like to blame it on COVID, but I think it was more me. But I had an amazing history teacher. Mr. Alexander supported me and motivated me to do well, and he inspired me to take more challenging classes. I realized I could handle it, and I finished my sophomore year with a 4.3.” This year, she took five Advanced Placement classes, in European History, Environmental Science, Literature & Composition, Statistics and Psychology.
While Lilith used to play soccer, basketball and track, she switched from team sports to weightlifting this year. “I wanted to get stronger,” she says; presumably, she means physically, though she may have also needed some help to carry her demanding course load as well as a heavy work schedule at the Essex House restaurant, where she has risen from dishwasher to front-of-house host. “My job has been huge for me in getting me to organize my time,” Lilith says.
VSAC Outreach Counselor Matt Mitchell, who has worked with Lilith for the last four years, marvels at her seemingly boundless energy. “She has such a strong drive for whatever task is in front of her, and she inspires the people around her to seek out more from their life,” says Mitchell, who offers career and college counseling to middle and high school students through the federally funded GEAR UP program.
VSAC and GEAR UP, Lilith says, have played a big role in allowing her to take advantage of so many opportunities.
“For me, the biggest resource has been the financial assistance. Thanks to VSAC, I’ve never had to pay for any standardized tests or applications, and they also helped me pay for Upward Bound,” a multi-year enrichment program for college-bound students, who go on campus visits and attend cultural programs throughout the year, and participate in a six-week summer program at NVU Johnson, which offers college-credited coursework and guidance on writing college essays.
As she looks ahead to next year, Lilith is starting to think about her college choice – with her eye on Washington, DC schools in particular – and she also says she’s starting to feel a little wistful about the end of her high school career.
“I’ve loved my high school experience, and I’m already feeling a little nostalgic,” she says. “As far as next steps, I bounce back and forth almost daily between feeling a lot of stress in that strive for perfection, and realizing that it’s all going to work out.”
For additional information about the Eric Holder evening at the Flynn Center, see our events listings. For guidance on college and career planning and help with financial aid from VSAC, go to vsac.org/financialaid and check out our online workshops. To find out about our programs for adult students, go to vsac.org/adultlearners. You can also call 800-642-3177, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and visit online at firstname.lastname@example.org.