Hunter West considers herself a competitive person. After all, she’s a standout volleyball and basketball player at South Lenoir High School, and academically she ranks No. 1 in her senior class. But now that the 17-year-old find herself in the most competitive situation she’s ever faced, Hunter West takes a more expansive view.
“I just view this as an opportunity to meet new people and grow not only as a student but as an individual and to learn people’s different perspectives,” she said.
The “opportunity” is a shot at one of the most prestigious and rewarding scholarships in the nation, the Morehead-Cain Scholarship to the University of North Carolina – a scholarship that draws thousands of applicants and is awarded annually only to about 70 students, some 3 percent of all those hopefuls.
As South Lenoir’s nominee, West made the first cut, being selected as a semi-finalist on the basis on her academic record and her application. Last week she spent the morning in Greenville with other semi-finalists from the region, doing a group activity and sitting for a 20-minutes interview; on Friday, she will learn if she is among the some 126 finalists who will proceed to final interviews in Chapel Hill.
“It was nerve-wracking, but it was a lot of fun at the same time,” she said a few hours after that trip to Greenville. “It was really interesting just to be able to talk to the candidates and see where they’re coming from.”
She learned a lesson about being hyper-competitive during the summer of her sophomore year, when she was playing basketball on a travel squad. “The whole season I just tried to compete with my teammates,” West said. “That didn’t allow me to make those friends and to connect with other people and ultimately grow as a basketball player.”
She’s applied that lesson to her scholarship quest without reservation. It is the idea of team, of being part of a whole, that she finds most appealing about the possibility of winning a Morehead-Cain, she said.
“Going into college for any freshman, no matter where they’re coming from, is nerve-wracking. With this (scholarship), I would already be in a community of people who are somewhat similar to me, so I’ll be able to make those connections,” West said. “That is the most appealing thing about the Morehead-Cain to me – the opportunities it gives you and the connections you make, not only with different people but with different places around the world.”
Valued at about $80,000 for in-state students, the Morehead-Cain Scholarship covers all expenses for four years of undergraduate study. Scholars also participate in summer enrichment programs.
The selection process puts an emphasis on students’ leadership abilities, their character, scholarship and physical vigor. West, the daughter of Timmy and Sheila West, checks all those boxes.
In addition to being a top athlete with a 5.0 GPA – a senior who’s spending this school year in college classes – she is a student leader, the creator and current administrator of a tutoring program that has dramatically increased math scores at South Lenoir and played a role in decreasing the dropout rate. “That is something I’m most proud of,” West said.
As for character, there is this: “Whether I get this or not,” West said, “I just want to be confident in God’s goodness. No matter what happens, He’s going to lead me to the right place with the right people at the right time. So I’m confident in that more than anything else. This scholarship is absolute amazing and it’s something I really want, but more than that I want God’s will to be done and I know it will be done no matter what goes on with this.”