By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published May 10, 2012
For Merrill Hagerman, senior at St. Pius X High School, the past four years have been a series of struggles and triumphs. Now the teenager looks toward the future, excited by the prospect of new experiences in college and beyond.
This fall Hagerman will be attending Wofford College, a liberal arts school in Spartanburg, S.C. She hopes to study abroad in Europe, in France especially, as her previous trips to the region left an indelible mark on the senior.
“I really like Europe, and Paris, a lot,” said Hagerman, who has been studying French at St. Pius. “I want to be fluent so I can travel there more.”
Hagerman also has traveled outside the U.S. for other reasons, including a mission trip to Jamaica her junior year. While she participated in the trip with the intention of helping others, she found the experience to be helpful to her as well. To see smiling children who do not have a lot taught Hagerman to be grateful for what she has.
“We did a lot of projects around Kingston. … We went to a lot of apostolates of Mustard Seed Communities,” said Hagerman, who added that the group helped build a walkway and a grotto during their time there. She gained a new perspective on the abundance in the U.S. and noticed how much people take things for granted here, she said.
Hagerman also had the chance to get to know many of her classmates that she didn’t know very well, a pleasantly surprising aspect of the trip. “Everyone kind of had a bond after that, and so I got to know a lot of people that I didn’t really talk to at school,” she said.
Hagerman has been active in the St. Pius community as well. She participated in competitive cheerleading all four years of high school, earning three region titles in four years.
The exhaustive responsibility of competitive cheerleading was even more trying as Hagerman recovered from surgery for pectus excavatum, a caved-in chest cavity, which took her more than six months from which to recover her freshman year. It was a stressful time but was worth all the effort, she said.
“Cheerleading is important to me,” said Hagerman. “There were multiple times when I had to stop because it hurt so bad. But I kept going.”
Hagerman also teaches at the Atlanta School of Gymnastics in Tucker. She assists the toddler and 5- to 8-year-old classes several times a week. The school is where she used to go to practice for competitions, but now she enjoys working on the other side of things, helping kids become excited about gymnastics and cheerleading.
“I enjoy it,” she said. “I get a lot out of it. I like helping little kids.”
While Hagerman is not sure what she wants to do after graduating from college, she is excited about the more independent life she will have at Wofford. Meeting new people, learning new things and a change of scenery will be most welcomed, she said.
“There are obstacles. There are a lot of things that come your way that you don’t know are going to happen,” said Hagerman. “I just go with the flow. I don’t really think about what’s coming. I just live in the moment.”