GRADUATION 2023: With help from Elle Woods, North Stanly senior heads to the Ivy League

Published 2:29 pm Thursday, June 22, 2023

Abigail Wahl, a senior at North Stanly, was much younger when she first saw “Legally Blonde,” the 2001 romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon about a sorority girl who attempts to win back her ex-boyfriend by joining him at Harvard Law School.

But there was nothing funny about the takeaway Wahl had from the film. Like Elle Woods, Wahl set her sights on getting into an Ivy League School.

She specifically recalled an iconic scene, when Woods first encounters her ex-boyfriend at Harvard, that motivated her to take on the challenge of attending one of the eight schools.

“So Elle Woods says, ‘What? Like it’s hard?’ when she got into Harvard and I was like, ‘Oh, I could do that,’ ” Wahl said.

Even though she aimed for a top-notch education, the 17-year-old New London resident never knew which school she wanted to attend.

That changed her freshman year at North.

Upon learning about her Ivy League dream, a teacher mentioned she should shoot for Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

“After that, the more I looked into it, I was like, ‘Okay, this is actually exactly what I’m looking for,’ ” Wahl said.

Years of hard work and dedication paid off in December when Wahl learned she had been accepted into Brown, one of only about 1,700 students in the incoming freshman class. She said she does not know of any other students in her school or the district who have been accepted to an Ivy League school.

Wahl, who received $85,000 in scholarship money from the university, plans to double major in history and political science. Her goal is to become an archivist and work somewhere like the Smithsonian.

“In the moment, I was excited,” she said. “The amount of work I put into it, I was just very happy that it had paid off into something.”

Sarah Chandler, her mother, called it a “relief,” seeing her daughter’s longtime dream finally being realized.

“I’m very happy for her and very proud of her for all she’s accomplished,” Chandler said.

Like Elle Woods, Wahl got into the school by working as hard as possible to distinguish herself from other applicants.

During her four years, Wahl has been involved in nearly every aspect of the school. She is the student body president and a member of the National and Technical honor societies. She helped found the school’s Unity Club, is on the school improvement team, was a cheerleader for four years (including the last two as captain) and was a student attorney with Teen Court.

Wahl has taken the toughest courses at North and has an associate in arts degree from Stanly Community College.

“Very little actually,” she said with a laugh when asked if there was anything she was not involved in with the school.

The highlight of her high school career came last year when Wahl was one of 12 students across the country (and only one from North Carolina) to be accepted into the Bezos Scholars Program, which inspires and challenges young people to address issues they are passionate about in their communities.

Wahl and North CTE teacher Tina Carter spent a week at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colorado, which included leadership training, panel discussions and conversations with many of the world’s most acclaimed scientists, journalists, artists and other global luminaries. She even met program founders Jackie and Mike Bezos, the parents of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

As part of the program, Wahl created a service project to benefit her community. She started a mentoring program called “Lead, Read, Achieve” in partnership with Richfield Elementary. Wahl and her classmates have read to and with first-, second- and fourth-grade students since October.

Wahl and her friends logged about 208 hours of service time working with elementary students, she said. The mentoring program concluded in May, though Wahl hopes other students will continue with it next year.

“It was a lot more fun than I expected,” Wahl said, noting she enjoyed seeing the growth of many of the students she mentored. Several elementary students who could not read at the start of the school year have checked out chapter books from the library.

Wahl is humble despite her hard work and acknowledges luck was a factor in her acceptance.

Wahl is excited about the future. She heads off to Brown at the end of August.

“I think I have had a pretty good high school experience.”

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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