If Sarah Hendley chooses to pursue her interests in political science and law, she has plenty of evidence that she’ll be a success.
The St. Mary High School senior has a 4.0 grade-point average — top in her class as of Friday — and was chosen to participate in the Governor’s Scholars Program this summer.
She spent five months of her junior year grabbing coffee and making copies as a U.S. Senate page in Washington, D.C.
Thirty high school students in the nation participated in the program, which required her to keep up with schoolwork and live independently in the nation’s capital for five months. In addition to class instruction time, she attended congressional sessions and ran errands for senators.
She has the blessing of Vice President Joe Biden, one of the many political figures she met in Congress. “He told me I had beautiful eyes, actually,” Hendley said Wednesday.
Which all told lands Hendley Teen of the Week honors.
Hendley, daughter of Missy and Stan Eckenberg and Steven Hendley, is the Murray State University Teen of the Week. Each Monday, the Sun features a different MSU Teen of the Week selected from nominees submitted by high school guidance counselors throughout western Kentucky and southern Illinois. In May, a Teen of the Year will be chosen from the weekly winners, earning a $5,000 scholarship to Murray State. Teen of the Week is part of the Sun’s Newspapers in Education program.
For many students an experience such as the Senate page program would be a standout highlight, a unique show of initiative and accomplishment. For Hendley it’s par for the course.
In June alone she participated in three prestigious programs. She spent June 5-10 in the U.S. Naval Academy summer seminar in Maryland that stresses academic, leadership and physical training programs. Two days later she scored a 31 (out of a maximum 36) on the ACT and left the next day for Kentucky Girls State, an application-only educational program that teaches students about state government. She spent five days in workshops at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg hearing from speakers such as Secretary of State Trey Grayson.
To end the month she participated in the Governor’s Scholars program at Murray State University with a focus on political and legal subjects.
Hendley’s busy summer didn’t surprise the staff at St. Mary.
“She is one of the most motivated students I have ever encountered in my 36 years employment in high school education,” said Tony Burkeen, St. Mary principal. “She works diligently, is extremely responsible and would represent our region well.”
The school’s counselor, Dennis Griffith, also pegs Hendley as a rare type of student.
“She is one of the top 10 students I have had the privilege of working with in my 45 years of education,” Griffith said.
Hendley’s involvement reaches much further back than this summer. Along with being her school’s yearbook editor, she launched a hunger awareness project that raised $400 for the Community Kitchen. She raised the money by convincing Burkeen to let students pay $3 to wear orange to school (St. Mary schools require uniforms) with the money going to the local kitchen.
A three-sport athlete in soccer, basketball and volleyball, Hendley is a captain for the latter two teams.
But as noticeable as her 6-foot frame, which helped her join the varsity basketball squad in middle school, are her maturity and poise.
Maybe that comes with the territory when you’re in Congress for five months before you’re old enough to vote.
“I think what I took the most from it was probably what I wanted to do with college and everything,” Hendley said.
“I think I want to major in political science because I really found that that’s what I’m passionate about.”
She is still deciding where she wants to attend college with the University of Kentucky, Washington University in St. Louis and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as options.
Contact Adam Shull, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.