By PRISCILLA GREEAR Special to the Bulletin | Published July 4, 2013
ATLANTA—Mary Helen deGolian sported both ballet slippers and paddock boots through middle school and divided her time between dancing and horseback riding. But by eighth grade she decided to get serious about ballet, pirouetting across the stage through high school. Along the way, she stretched in faith, brought dance to the disadvantaged and excelled in classes at Woodward Academy.
DeGolian graduated from Woodward as co-salutatorian and will attend Princeton University in New Jersey. She is the daughter of B.J. and Bill deGolian and is a member of the Cathedral of Christ the King. She attended Christ the King School through sixth grade.
DeGolian studied ballet six days a week, three hours a day, at the Metropolitan Ballet Theatre in Alpharetta. Her high point was performing as the Snow Queen in the “Nutcracker.”
“You work on something for months. When you’re on stage you get up there and finally enjoy. … Ballet is really hard, but it’s really enjoyable when you do something you didn’t think you could do,” she said in a phone interview during a month-long summer dance intensive at the San Francisco Conservatory.
Her ballet coach Maryann McCarthy guided her in faith and served as her confirmation sponsor.
“She was really important in helping me grow not just in ballet but in experiencing God’s presence in everyday life,” she said.
That sense of God’s blessings shaped her attitude as a student. She strove to take full advantage of her education and often met with teachers for extra help, a practice she strongly recommends to new students. “When I would go to school I’d always think about how lucky and how blessed I was to have the educational opportunities I did with Woodward and my parents. It motivated me to really make the best of my time and never throw away anything I‘d been so blessed with. And that translated into really wanting to do my best with high school academics.”
And she shared her love of ballet by teaching a dance class at the Boys & Girls Club near Woodward.
“It was definitely girls who didn’t necessarily have the opportunity to attend dance classes. It was really fun,” deGolian said.
She also went for extra dance help beyond classes and started training individually at 12 with McCarthy.
“The minute she walked in the door, I knew she would be one of the most promising students I’d ever been with because of her humility. She just couldn’t get enough information,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said deGolian definitely could dance professionally, recalling how she was accepted into a prestigious American Repertoire Ballet summer intensive.
“It’s very exciting to see a student progress like that and reach for the stars,” McCarthy said. “She is working to be the best she can be mentally, spiritually and physically. … She is a phenomenal dancer and a phenomenal person.”
With McCarthy’s encouragement, deGolian relied on her faith as she struggled with anxiety about her future and rejections from scholarship applications. While at Woodward, she participated in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“It was kind of nice to have this time away from all the craziness and stress and be strengthened and focus on my faith,” she said. “It was so comforting being able to turn to my faith and know God has a plan for me. … Being able to trust in God’s love for me really helped me get through the year.”
In the classroom, her favorite subjects were government and math as well as chemistry, where she liked finding “an explanation for everything.” But she is “really undecided” on her academic path and goes to Princeton “with an open mind and to take advantage of opportunities from those classes that really seem to interest me.”
DeGolian always wanted to attend Princeton, her father’s alma mater. She hopes to dance with the Princeton University Ballet or another student-run company at the Ivy League university, which is the fourth oldest college in the United States.
“I got to meet a lot of students there and talk to them and I felt what a wonderful dance community. Everything about it just fit really well,” she said.
She goes forth with that same sense of determination to make the most of her Princeton education.
“I’m obviously super excited. … I think the great blessings that have allowed me to have the incredible opportunity to attend Princeton will motivate me to take advantage of all opportunities there and make the most of every minute.”